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Prime Minister Outlines Action On Harding Shooting - November 30, 2000

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Prime Minister Outlines Action On Harding Shooting

Prime Minister Dr Kenny D. Anthony says the Government is determined to do something about public concerns about deaths at the hands of the police. To that end, he has ordered that investigations into the latest incidents be carried out "with quick dispatch" and the results forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions. The Prime Minister has also ordered the Commissioner of Police to review the policy on the issuance of firearms to police officers. Dr Anthony offered these assurances in a statement issued today on the recent death of escaped prisoner Alfred Harding. Following is the full text of the Prime Minister’s statement:

"Like everyone else, I awoke on Tuesday morning to the news that escaped Barbadian prisoner Alfred Harding was dead.

"I was aware of the deep sense of relief expressed by many at the fact that the prisoner had been killed. However, like many others, I too became concerned about the disturbing news that emerged later that day about the circumstances under which the escapee met his death at the hands of the police.

"That is why, very early on Tuesday, I instructed Home Affairs Minister Velon John and the Commissioner of Police to expedite the investigations to ascertain the truth of the events of Tuesday morning at La Clery when Mr. Harding was shot.

"Preliminary reports and accounts were not only conflicting but diametrically opposed. In the circumstances, the Commissioner of Police that same day upgraded the investigation and appointed a special senior police officer to investigate.

"Following further discussions between the Minister of Home Affairs and myself, after the conflicting stories and new information became available, I expect by now that the police would have interviewed the witnesses as a mater of great urgency. The police officer involved will have to be relieved of his duties immediately to permit a free and fair investigation into the matter. A report on the investigation should be immediately passed on to the Director of Public Prosecutions for consideration and determination as to whether charges should or should not be laid. I do not expect this process to take any more than one week.

"If the evidence collected supports the statements of the residents of La Clery, then the full force of the law shall come into play and St. Lucians can expect that justice will prevail.

"In the meantime, I am requesting the Commissioner of police to immediately review the policy on the issuance of firearms to police officers, to ensure that at all times, such firearms are used only for the protection of the public and for securing law and order.

"I wish to assure St. Lucians and all citizens and those who reside in our country that my Government has been and continues to be concerned about the state of the execution of justice in St. Lucia. Undoubtedly, there have been times when many have had cause to lose faith in our justice system. This is not new and that is why, very early into my administration, we took a decision to undertake a comprehensive review of our justice system.

"But, as anyone would imagine and concede, overhauling a defective justice system is neither easy nor immediate. That is why we have started at the beginning, by taking a comprehensive look at our laws and our judicial system. That is why our Attorney General’s Department has, in the short space of three years, been able to identify and begin the process of reviewing the criminal statutes that require replacement. To this end, the first draft of the new Criminal Code has been prepared; a revised Firearms Bill will shortly be coming before parliament; and work has begun on a new Police Act.

"Our comprehensive review of the justice system has also focussed, from very early in our administration, on the holistic transformation of our police force.

"As every St. Lucian knows, our police force has faced crisis after crisis over the past 30 years or more. When we took office in 1997, the police force had been the subject of no less than ten Commissions of Inquiry in the previous 40 years. Here too, like with the justice system in our country, there is a dire need for comprehensive review and change. It is for this reason too, that since coming to office, my administration has been pursuing a policy of Police Reform. Though still in its initial stages, the basic outlines of such reform are being put into place. But even while such a review is under way and under the command of a Deputy Commissioner from abroad, there continues to be understandable concern about the enforcement of the law.

"In any review of the state of our police force, it is important to highlight the fact that there are always fine police men and women, who take their duty seriously and who can make the farce proud. But it is also true – and we must admit it – that there will be those police officers in any force whose actions bring the entire force into disrepute. Whether in implementation of our traffic regulations or apprehension of persons, some our police officers have continued to display a less than responsible attitude.

"The matter of Mr Harding’s death has once more brought into public focus the issue of shootings involving the police. This comes quickly on the heels of the recent public attention brought upon the force in the death of Mr Paul Hamilton. There have also been other recent cases that have raised questions in the public’s mind.

"Given all I have said about the Alfred Harding case, it is obviously too early to pronounce on the matters under investigation. However, it is my hope that the steps I have already announced -- and this statement -- will provide some reassurance to St. Lucians that my government has taken note and is determined to do something about justified public concerns about the efficiency with which our armed police officers conduct themselves in the pursuit and apprehension of persons wanted by the law.

"Be assured that no stone will left unturned as my government pursues the needed reforms in our justice system and, in particular, our police force. At the same time, I wish to appeal to all citizens to exercise the patience and restraint needed as we lay the basis for the needed changes. Change is always gradual and will take time, but what has to be done must be done now and will be done.

"In the meantime, I also appeal to all our citizens to continue to cooperate with the police, to show the level of confidence in our force displayed by those citizens at La Clery who did not take the law into their own hand when they cornered and apprehended Mr Harding. Their trust and confidence in the force might have been shattered by the actions of the officer involved in that case. However, we should not and must not let that incident, dreadful as it might have been, to forever shatter our confidence in our ability to reform our police force and restore its image as one we can trust to serve and protect our citizens."

November 30, 2000


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