By FRANCIS JOSEPH
For young and middle-aged people, the biggest murder trial they have witnessed in the last 30 years was that of Dole Chadee and his gang.
No other case since 1996 has caught the public’s eye and attention.
But in the 1970s, there were crowds outside the Red House, Port-of-Spain for the trial of Abdul Malik and Stanley Abbott for two gruesome murders at Christina Gardens, Arima.
The victims were British spy, Gale Ann Benson, and Belmont barber, Joseph Skerritt. While Malik gave the orders to kill the two, he was only found guilty and executed for Skerritt’s murder. Abbott was convicted for the murder of Benson.
In fact, there is a movie called “The Bank Job” which came out several years ago in England. That movie depicted what led to the murders at Christina Gardens.
Today, we deal with the case of Stanley Abbott and how close he came to being set free by the Privy Council in 1976. The Privy Council, by a margin of 3-2, dismissed Abbott’s contention that he was involved in the murders under duress.
Lord Wilberforce, the President of the court and Lord Edmund-Davies dissented, while Lords Hailsham, Kilbrandon and Salmon, dismissed Abbott’s appeal.
Abbott wanted a new trial. The appeal raised a point of law of great importance, namely, does duress afford a defence to anyone charged, as a principal in the first degree, with the crime of murder?
The story started in May 1971 when Malik, also known as Michael De Freitas, sent Abbott to London to carry out certain instructions. When Abbott expressed his resentment at being ordered about, Malik threatened to kill Abbott’s mother. Abbott regarded Malik as a very dangerous man.
Abbott left for England in May 1971 and was summoned back to Trinidad by Malik by December. He went to see Malik who was living at Christina Gardens, Arima. Malik had set up a commune which consisted of five other men in addition to Malik’s wife and children.
Abbott told Malik he wanted to go home and live with his mother, but Malik insisted he stay at Christina Gardens. One of the people there was called Hakim Jamal. Gale Ann Benson was his mistress.
On December 24, Abbott heard Malik tell Jamal that he should send for someone in the United States who he could trust. Two days later, a man called Kidogo arrived and joined the commune. Abbott was made to understand that this man was a hired assassin and not employed for manual work and that he had killed police in Boston, USA.
On January 1, 1972, Malik summoned all the men in the commune except Jamal. At the meeting, Malik spoke of “liquidating” Benson on the ground that she was causing Jamal mental stress. Abbott pleaded for her life.
Malik said he wanted blood
Malik said he wanted blood and he and Kidogo looked at Abbott who said he could see murder in their eyes and he felt mortally afraid. Abbott said if he had gone to the police that night and told them of the plot to kill Benson, the police would not have believed him.
The next morning, Malik indicated that he wanted a hole dug in the back yard. He said Benson was due that morning, and if she asked about the hole, she was to be told it was for rotting manure. Malik said Abbott would grab Benson and take her into the hole.
If Abbott failed to do so, he and his mother would be killed. When Benson arrived, she was shown the hole. Benson asked what they were going to use the hole for, for which Abbott replied, “you”. He grabbed her neck and pulled her into the hole. Kidogo jumped into the hole as well. Kidogo attempted to stab Benson with the cutlass.
Yeates then jumped into the hole, took away the cutlass and stabbed Benson through the lung. Benson collapsed in the hole. But she was not dead. Four men including Abbott then buried Benson while she was still alive.
They covered the hole. A fire at Christina Gardens days later led the police to the scene where they dug up the hole and found Benson and Skerritt. By that time, Malik had fled to Guyana but was later returned to Trinidad by then Sgt Norton Registe.
Yeates drowned before he could be arrested. Malik and Abbott were charged for murder along with Edward Chadee. Another one, called Adolphus Parmassar, turned witness for the Queen. Chadee’s death sentence was commuted to 20 years. No one ever heard about Kidogo again.