Evidence so far points to negligence -Kennard
Stabroek News
May 1, 2002

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With enquiries into the Mash day prison break about to reach a climax, evidence received by the enquiry team thus far suggests that negligence may have been a contributory factor, according to head of the team Cecil Kennard.

The former Chancellor of the Judiciary told Stabroek News yesterday that officers on duty on the fateful day appeared from the evidence obtained to have been negligent in the discharge of their duties leading to the escape of five inmates and the death of one officer and the serious wounding of another.

Twenty-one-year-old Prison Officer Troy Williams died as a result of stab wounds he received to the region of the chest during the prison break-out while his colleague Roxanne Winfield was on the receiving end of a bullet which left her in a comatose state for several weeks. Urgent specialist medical attention including surgery by Trinidadian Neurosurgeon Dr Richard Spann has resulted in improvements in her condition

The five prisoners who broke out of jail - Dale Moore, Shawn Brown, Mark Fraser, Troy Dick and Andrew Douglas - are still at large and are considered armed and dangerous.

Kennard, Chairman of the investigative team and Chairman of the Police Complaints Authority, updating Stabroek News on the work including decisions reached so far, said that the team had interviewed some 23 persons, including Director of Prisons, Dale Erskine; Officer in Charge of the Georgetown facility, Colin Howard; Superintendent Clement Duncan; three inmates; a CID detective and a civilian. The team was expected to meet yesterday afternoon to determine whether it needed to call further witnesses or request additional documents.

Once no further information was required, Kennard said, the team would begin deliberations on the evidence garnered including discussing the findings in order to arrive at their recommendations.

The formal report on the conclusions reached in relation to the February 23 prison break, Kennard stated, is likely to be completed in the shortest possible time once the taking-of- evidence period is concluded.

The team, established by Home Affairs Minister Ronald Gajraj to look into the circumstances surrounding the Mash day jail-break, was tasked with the effort of determining possible causes. The team headed by Kennard, and including Lt Colonel of the Guyana Defence Force, Christine King; Detective Senior Superintendent Fredrick Caesar; and Security Coordinator, Ministry of Home Affairs, Sultan Kassim was mandated among other things to ascertain circumstances surrounding the February 23 escape of five prisoners described as dangerous; the culpability of any person(s) for the escape and to make recommendations as to the appropriate disciplinary action to be taken against those found to be culpable; and to look at the existing security arrangements with respect to the custody, management and control of prisoners classified as dangerous.

According to Kennard, the team has received the full cooperation of the prison authorities in the execution of its probe, which generally he stated was progressing satisfactorily and likely to be completed and submitted soon.

Meanwhile, Kennard stated that the investigative team noted the situation as it related to overcrowding at the Camp Street prison.

Kennard's comment was in reference to a question posed by this newspaper as to whether the team, although not mandated, examined the possibility of resiting the facility from its present location.

He pointed to reports by a British judicial team on the subject and disclosures by current Chancellor Justice Desiree Bernard during a seminar for the magistracy hosted by the Carter Center on March 9.

On that occasion Bernard had urged magistrates to work energetically on the backlog of cases involving remand prisoners, who, a report had stated, constituted some 41% of the inmates in the Camp Street penal facility.

Justice Bernard had also, on that occasion, tasked the magistracy with re-thinking its imposition of custodial sentences in the light of the problem of overcrowding of the country's prison system which also sees a large majority serving sentences of between one and six months.

Since the prison break a spate of violent robberies and vehicle hijackings have beset the country.