Official silence Editorial
Stabroek News
March 22, 2002

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On February 23, 2002, five prisoners escaped from the Georgetown jail killing one prison officer and critically wounding another in the process. On February 24, they hijacked a car in Bel Air Park, following which they dumped the owner near Cummings Lodge. In the early hours of February 25 they are thought to have been responsible for robbing two security guards of their guns in Festival City, and for spraying the Ruimveldt Police Outpost with bullets as they drove past.

On March 6, a gang of men, thought to include at least two of the escapees, robbed a store in Annandale, and then hijacked a mini bus in which they made good their escape. On Friday, March 15, a car was hijacked by five armed bandits in Kitty, driven to the Eccles Industrial Site where the driver was dumped. The police eventually caught up with them after they had left the Water Street branch of the National Bank of Industry and Commerce (NBIC), where they had withdrawn money from the hijacked driver's account. After a shoot out with the police, one of the bandits who was driving the car sustained a fatal wound. He was later identified as Gregory McClennon who had been charged in 1995 with armed robbery and rape. The other four escaped.

As if that were not enough, a Campbellville businessman was held up by bandits at the weekend as he entered his gate at 4.30 in the afternoon. His takings for the day were seized, and his car hijacked.

Then on Sunday, March 17, two bandits hijacked a car outside the Hilton restaurant at the corner of Garnett and Middleton Streets. In the early hours of the morning of the following day, the car turned up near Friendship on the East Bank, where six bandits wearing dark clothes and bullet-proof vests robbed the occupants of two cars on their way to the airport, as well as the passengers of a 42 route mini bus transporting greens. The bandits used one of the cars to escape to Buxton.

Just what is going on? Are all these incidents directly linked, or is the robbery of the Canje Street businessman, for example, a copycat crime? Early on the authorities had mentioned that 'Blackie's' gang had been re formed, so what evidence is there that other members apart from Andrew Douglas had associations with Linden London? What was Gregory McClennon's connection with him, for instance?

The authorities too, had indicated that the gang had been expanded, so if it has, why have the police not issued wanted bulletins for members other than the five escapees? Just who is it that the public is supposed to be on the look out for, apart from Andrew Douglas, Dale Moore, et al? Or is it that the police are really not sure?

And are the men operating as a single gang, or have they split up? Are they all based in Buxton, since that is where they exited from the last car they commandeered, or are only some of them based there? Or is it that they are moving around between the East Coast, the East Bank and the city in various 'safe' houses? In a country like Guyana, where housing development has been linear, why has it not been possible to locate any of them or block their through passage? Following the hijacks, were road blocks placed on the East Coast, East Bank and Embankment roads simultaneously,for example? And what about the city access roads? Or is it that the police lack the manpower or have no contingency plans to deal with sudden crises?

The two men who hijacked the car outside the Hilton restaurant, according to eyewitnesses, were on foot. Just where did they come from? Is this segment of the gang living in the heart of the city, or is it that they were not part of the core gang, and were just charged with hijacking a car for others' use? It must not be forgotten too that the car hijacked before that was taken in Kitty. Should the residents of this part of Georgetown be extra wary?

One presumes that the police have lifted fingerprints from the various cars which have been used by the bandits, so what are their findings? Only in the case of the mini bus in Annandale has it been reported that the fingerprints of two of the escapees were found, although even that was not issued in the form of an official release, but just appeared attributed to police sources in one section of the press.

And what about the security cameras in the ATM of the Water Street branch of NBIC? Have the police asked for the tapes, and if they did, whom did they see on them?

The public, which appears to be at risk on the East Bank, the East Coast and the capital, has only rumours to fill the information vacuum. We have entered on what for this country is an entirely new phase of criminal activity, characterized by a level of banditry which puts the ordinary citizen constantly on the front line (periods of protest excepted). Who does not stop their car at a red light in the present circumstances without wondering if they could suddenly find themselves nose to nose with a semi automatic? Who has any enthusiasm for going to the airport? Which cashier in a business place feels entirely secure? Who doesn't stand in the car park without the thought crossing their mind that it could become the venue for a shoot out?

So here we have a qualitively different crime situation, and yet the authorities have had absolutely nothing to say about it. Not the Government. Not the Minister of Home Affairs. Not the Commissioner of Police (ag). Why? Are they hoping that if they don't issue any information the public might not learn about the true number of hijackings? Or is it that they really don't know what to do, so they have fallen back on the old standby of do nothing, say nothing?

In our Wednesday edition we reported the Police Public Relations Office as saying that no information could be given to this newspaper on the East Bank robberies until instructions had been received from the administration of the Guyana Police Force. We are still waiting for those instructions to be issued, and for the muzzle to be removed from the PRO. Why are they so terrified of issuing press releases?

When will the administration stop treating the public like little children? When will they start being open and transparent, and actually trust the population with some status report on the bandit situation? The true nature of what is happening cannot be camouflaged by silence; there is no hiding bad news.

The fact that there has been no press conference on the situation, that official statements from the police are about as easy to locate as monkey apples in Antarctica, and that officials like the Police Commissioner (ag) and Minister of Home Affairs have gone into hibernation so they don't have to answer the kind of questions posed above, projects an image of a government which is effete, not in control of the situation, and uncertain about what to do. It is hardly a recipe for inspiring public confidence.

On Wednesday the President of Guyana expatiated at length to the media on the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Australia. All well and good. But he had nary a word to say on what the public really wants to hear. Is it really beyond the boundaries of the administration's capabilities both to hold a press conference and to allow the Public Relations Office of the police force to actually say something for a change?