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Cop fingered in Armadale tragedy to face the courts

Published:Wednesday | April 21, 2010 | 12:00 AM

One of four police personnel whose professional conduct was brought into question for his role in the May 22, 2009 fire at the Armadale Juvenile Correctional Centre for Girls has been slapped with criminal charges. The other three are to be disciplined by the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF).

Seven girls lost their lives and others were wounded in a fire at the St Ann-based facility, which forced Jamaica's treatment of persons in state care under the microscope.

As local human rights and other prominent organisations raised their voices in disapproval of the events leading to the tragedy, Prime Minister Bruce Golding ordered an enquiry.

Eleven months after the fire, the Police High Command has released information that Constable Lawrence Burrell is to be brought before the St Ann's Bay Resident Magistrate's Court on April 30 to answer to charges that he flouted Section 26B of the Offences Against the Person Act.

The directive was precipitated by a ruling, handed down this week by the director of public prosecutions (DPP), that the policeman was to be charged for administering a noxious thing with intent to injure, aggrieve or annoy.

The Police High Command disclosed that Burrell was also facing 14 counts of assault occasioning actual bodily harm.

The DPP ruled that the three other police personnel - a woman corporal and two constables - who were also present at Armadale during the incident, be subjected to internal JCF disciplinary procedures.

Treatment meted out

The matter was dispatched to the DPP following a recommendation by Justice Paul Harrison, sole commissioner of the enquiry into the tragedy.

Clearly livid at the treatment meted out to the wards of the State on the night of May 22, 2009, leading up to the fire, Justice Harrison blamed the State, the Ministry of National Security, members of the Department of Correctional Services and police personnel for not handling their responsibilities, which led to the death of the seven girls.

Following months of testimony from the wards, as well as others under whose care the girls were entrusted, Justice Harrison found that it was a tear-gas canister thrown by the Alexandria constable on to a bunk bed with a foam mattress which sparked the blaze in the office dormitory.

The commission insisted that public officials must face disciplinary and other actions to be determined by the relevant authorities.

Justice Harrison described the actions of then Commissioner of Corrections June Spence-Jarrett as uncaring, inhumane and negligent.

This triggered an avalanche of calls for Spence-Jarrett's removal as commissioner of corrections.

She was eventually transferred to the Public Broadcasting Commission of Jamaica.