State offers $6m to man locked up for 50 years without trial
The Government has offered to pay $6 million as compensation to George Williams, who spent 50 years – or “his entire working life” – in prison without a trial before his release in 2020. Williams, whose health has deteriorated because of his...
The Government has offered to pay $6 million as compensation to George Williams, who spent 50 years – or “his entire working life” – in prison without a trial before his release in 2020.
Williams, whose health has deteriorated because of his incarceration, now has prostate cancer.
The compensation offer was immediately rejected by Williams’ family, who considers it “totally disrespectful”.
According to Williams’ attorney, John Clarke, the proposed sum was communicated by letter dated June 23 this year and is twice the Government’s initial offer.
The attorney had previously written to the Government indicating that Williams’ ordeal is “worth more than $70 million”.
But lawyers for the Government were unmoved.
“As indicated previously, we are prepared to offer the sum of six million dollars ($6,000,000) in settlement of this claim,” the Attorney General’s Chambers said in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Sunday Gleaner.
“Look at the inflation rate right now; it is so high. What can $6 million do for someone who cannot help himself?” asked Williams’ niece, Pamela Green.
“That is just like sweetie money. That’s nothing. That will only give me more headache than what I’m having right now.”
One legal expert opined that the offer could send a signal that the lives and liberties of some Jamaicans are worth “nothing”.
The expert argued, too, that damages awarded by the court should send a message to the Government about the importance of safeguarding the rights of citizens.
“Six million dollars is not going to send any message,” the attorney declared.
NEED PROPER MEDICAL CARE
Since his release from a high-security prison in June 2020, Williams, 73, has been diagnosed with prostate cancer and is now being cared for at an assisted-living facility, his niece said during a Sunday Gleaner interview last week.
She insisted, however, that her uncle is “strong” and could live another decade if he gets proper medical care.
Williams, a Rastafarian, was taken into custody by the police on December 29, 1970 and charged with murder for the slaying of Ian Laurie on July 21 that year, according to documents reviewed by The Sunday Gleaner.
A 2020 report by the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) revealed that he was one of seven mentally ill men who had each spent at least 40 years in prison awaiting a trial.
One of them, Noel Chambers, also a Rastafarian, died on January 27, 2020 at the age of 81 after spending 40 years in a high-security prison without a trial.
Chambers’ body “showed evidence of chronic emaciation” and was “covered with bedsores, vermin bites, and live bedbugs”, the INDECOM report said.
Williams’ family hired Clarke, a human rights attorney, who filed a wrongful imprisonment lawsuit against the Government seeking compensation for his ordeal, which they said included physical, sexual and mental abuse.
Green did not elaborate on the abuse.
Clarke said his interpretation of the law is that persons with mental illness should be taken to a hospital for treatment.
“We are saying in George’s case, he was never convicted, and it was improper for any judge to have placed him in prison and it was improper for the prison to take him and it was improper for him to be seen and be interacting with convicted persons,” he argued.
“In light of all of that, he should be properly compensated for being in the wrong place and for such a protracted period of time.”
But lawyers for the Government have countered that argument by noting that Williams was placed in prison by an order of the court, Clarke said, citing an affidavit filed by the Attorney General’s Chambers.
“They are saying that a judge placed him in prison and while they are concerned that it took a little long, he does not have any remedy because he was at the right place,” he said, summarising the Government’s position.
Clarke complained, too, that it has been a challenge getting the court to set a date to hear the lawsuit, which was filed over two years ago.
Green could not hide her frustration over the Government’s $6 million offer and the delays in getting a hearing date for the lawsuit.
“Everybody need fi just put in a one drum and roll down one deep, deep precipice because there is nobody to stand up for poor people,” she declared, overcome with frustration.
“We suffer, we go through so much and nobody have a listening ear to us and that is so unfair.”
‘WORK IN PROGRESS’
INDECOM, in its first quarterly report this year, noted that the passing of legislation to transition prisoners held at the ‘governor general’s pleasure’ to ‘at the court’s pleasure’ and the implementation of systems to ensure timely review of cases involving mentally ill persons “remains a work in progress”.
The oversight body said that according to reports, there is now full compliance by the commissioner of corrections with Section 25D of the Criminal Justice (Administration) Act regarding the timely review of cases for prisoners deemed ‘unfit to plead’ so that the cases can be relisted where applicable.
Further, it said the Department of Correctional Services has created and maintained communication with stakeholders, including the Office of the Public Defender, the Legal Aid Council, and others.
“This action should ideally prevent another occurrence such as that which befell Noel Chambers,” the report said.