Tue | Dec 5, 2023

Money heist

Overton says no amount of planning could have prevented attack; gunmen grab millions in second assault

Published:Monday | March 20, 2023 | 1:17 AMRuddy Mathison/Gleaner Writer
The bullet-riddled courier van in which the Beryllium team were travelling on Sunday, when they were attacked and robbed by gunmen in Portmore, St Catherine.
A police investigator processing the scene after an attack on a money courier team which was in the process of servicing a Scotiabank ATM in Portmore, St Catherine, on Sunday.
The shattered window on the driver’s side of the van, which came under attack from armed robbers on Sunday.

The president of the Jamaica Society for Industrial Security (JSIS) believes no amount of planning could have prevented a bloody case of déjà vu in which criminals outgunned a Beryllium courier team on Sunday, leaving four injured as they made off...

The president of the Jamaica Society for Industrial Security (JSIS) believes no amount of planning could have prevented a bloody case of déjà vu in which criminals outgunned a Beryllium courier team on Sunday, leaving four injured as they made off with a sum believed to be in the region of millions of dollars.

The incident unfolded about 12:40 p.m. as the crew was in the process of servicing an ATM in Portmore, St Catherine, at the 2 Cookson Pen branch.

The attack took place less than 200 metres from where two Beryllium guards were shot while performing a similar function three weeks ago. One guard died in that encounter as the criminals made off with an estimated $10 million.

“It is clear that the attack was carried out by vicious and brutal men with a tactical level of precision. They used the same methodology as the previous attack. Their objectives were clear, and they were prepared,” JSIS President Lt Com George Overton told The Gleaner while expressing sympathy for the wounded team members.

Overton, a director at the Guardsman Group of Companies within which Beryllium falls, noted that Sunday's attack was done in a manner that limited reaction from the guards.

“We will have to step up how we mitigate against this increased violence on our operation that put our men at risk,” Overton admitted, however, adding that part of the strategy is to establish a wider field of operation to protect the crew and minimise risk to members of the public while the courier team performs their duties.

On Sunday, a woman and a young child narrowly missed being caught in the middle of the firefight, as they drove up to the ATM moments before a hail of bullets. The two had exited the vehicle and were inside the ATM when the drama unfolded.

Their car was peppered with bullets as the gunmen engaged the security guards with high-powered weapons and handguns.

The woman was too shaken up to speak to the media.

Up to press time, the police and members of the Jamaica Defence Force were combing a wide area in the Lakes Pen area where the men abandoned the vehicles in which they fled the scene of the attack.

A police source told The Gleaner that more than 200 spent shells were retrieved from the scene.

This latest incident has drawn a sharp reaction from Portmore businessman Fenley Douglas, who is also the treasurer for the Portmore Pines Plaza Strata 851, where the first shooting took place.

Douglas, who is also the councillor for the Waterford division, said that the Government needs to review the security regulations, with an emphasis on training and operational strategy for private firms.

“It is clear that the security companies are allowed to operate in the public space transporting large sums of money without a clear strategy to protect themselves and members of the public who have to conduct financial transactions in these spaces,” Douglas said.

He added that the revision must look at a standard operating procedure for security officers who are custodians of large sums of money, with an emphasis on how to mitigate the risk involved in the interest of public safety.

“There must be a prescribed number of security personnel involved in these assignments. Also, the level of training afforded to them, based on the imminent danger they will face and the kind of vehicle that they used to transport money, must be a part of the review,” Douglas noted.

Following the attack a few weeks ago, Overton had told The Gleaner that while couriers would love to invest in more high-end armoured vehicles, this would be a very costly endeavour and their clients may not be able to afford such a service.

“In our business, everybody has to pay for the service. Our responsibility is to mitigate the risk while being able to deliver affordable cost to the marketplace,” he said.

“We would love to buy the Bushmasters (armoured vehicles) like what the army has to deliver money, but, who would be able to pay for that service? Not even the Bank of Jamaica would be able to pay,” argued Overton.

Senior Superintendent Stephanie Lindsay, who heads the Jamaica Constabulary Force's communications arm, said the guards' wounds were serious but not life-threatening.

Up to press time, one was released from hospital.

“The response of the police was quick,” Lindsay told reporters at the scene. “Information on the scene is that there were two cars involved in the shooting. They were able to intercept the vehicles that are now in [police] custody and believed to be linked to the robbery.”

She said that investigators are following strong leads, but noted that it was too early to say whether both robberies were linked.

“It's a wide investigation. The fact that we have two similar incidents, investigators will want to examine this (possible connection) as well,” she noted.

Lindsay disclosed that detectives from the St Catherine South Police Division have made progress with the probe into the first robbery, for which one suspect remains in custody.

Last night, Beryllium said that, for the safety of its clients and teams, it would be assessing its operations islandwide, noting that this could cause delays in the delivery of services.