The killing of WPC Bernadette James… WAS IT MURDER OR ACCIDENT?

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By FRANCIS JOSEPH

Take a look at the photo­graph on this page. Here is Kevon James pleading with Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley in Carenage for justice for three persons killed by the police in that district in May this year.

KEVON JAMES, left, speaking with Prime Minister Dr KEITH ROWLEY in Carenage in May

Dr Rowley, Member of Parlia­ment for Diego Martin West, had gone there after residents protest­ed the killing of Naomi Nelson, 14, Keron Eve, 30, and Kareem Roberts, 27, by police in an al­leged shootout.
Kevon was seeking justice for the families of the dead persons.
But Kevon was just seven years old when his mother, WPC Berna­dette James, was killed in an anti-terrorist exercise in Chaguaramas in 1987. Kevon is still waiting for justice for his mother.
What were the circumstances of WPC James’ killing?

The killing

WPC James was sitting in the middle of a police bus. The bus was filled with police officers on an anti-terrorist exercise at Tuck­er Valley, Chaguaramas, on Octo­ber 2, 1987.
The bus was attacked by ter­rorists and in descending on the bus, shots were fired. Somehow, a live round mysteriously entered the chamber of a policeman’s gun outside the bus.
That live round reportedly went through the front glass of the bus, bypassed everyone sitting in the front of the vehicle, and struck James in her chest.
That live round, among a thou­sand blanks released for the ex­ercise, pierced James’ chest and she died sometime later while undergoing treatment at the Sev­enth Day Adventist Hospital, Cocorite.
One of my college friends was a member of the Police Anti-Ter­rorist team that day. So affected was he about the events that day, he quit the Police Service and migrated to Maryland, United States, and never returned for years.
So affected was he that he used to cry every time the matter was discussed, whether by me or his police colleagues. There were other members of that team who migrated to the US as well after this incident.

The exercise

WPC James had gone to Tucker Valley, Chaguaramas, on Octo­ber 2, 1987, with members of the Multi-Optional Police Section (MOPS) for an exercise involving the capturing of hostages.
The exercise was supposed to be the final of a training stint for the elite squad. The then Min­ister of National Security, Her­bert Atwell, then Commissioner of Police Louis Jim Rodriguez and his Deputy Commission­ers, Jules Bernard and Samp­son Phillip, were invited to the final training, along with other dignitaries.
There were several demonstra­tions that day. In the first dem­onstration, there was an exercise involving captors and captives. There was a bus carrying several police officers, including WPC James. They were the captors. The bus was stormed by members of another team, they were the captives.
The firearms to be used on that exercise should have car­ried blanks. During the attack, James got shot while sitting in the middle of the bus. She was shot from a bullet discharged from a gun from a colleague who was reportedly outside the bus. She was rushed off to hospital on the orders of then Supt Gregory Mendez, who was in charge of
MOPS.
The police searched for the shell of that live round which killed James, but to this day, it was never found.
PC Gregory Pierre, whose con­duct was called into question at the Coroner’s Inquest, also left the service and migrated.
At the inquest, Pierre said the day before the events, he had placed his personal firearm, a Smith and Wesson semi-automat­ic pistol and an Uzi sub-machine gun in his kit bag at the Lucy Beadon Clinic, St James Bar­racks.
The following day, he returned to the Barracks and checked both firearms. They were clear of am­munition. At Chaguaramas that day, Pierre took his pistol from the bag and holstered it. He was provided with blank ammunition. The Uzi weapon was still in the bag.
Pierre was the driver of a ve­hicle which was to intercept the police bus. On the instructions of senior officer Michael Maximay, Pierre drove his vehicle along Covigne Road and blocked the bus. He alighted from the vehicle, drew his pistol and adopted the position he had practised.
Pierre then fired his pistol in the direction of the bus. As he was proceeding to his next position, he noticed that the windscreen of the bus was shattered. As he was taking out a captor from the bus, Pierre heard James cry out for her chest.
He ran into the bus and ob­served a small hole in James’ chest. She was placed in Pierre’s vehicle and rushed to the hospital. Pierre handed over his pistol to Maxima at the hospital. As a per­son trained in weaponry, Pierre was certain that he had fired blanks that day.
He told Coroner Melville Baird that anyone who handles arms and ammunition would know the difference between a blank round and a live round of ammunition.
Several of the persons on that exercise gave evidence before the Coroner. Because the shell was not recovered, it was impos­sible for one to determine whether that bullet was discharged from Pierre’s firearm.
According to the pathologist’s report, James was not shot from someone shooting from the front of the bus. She was shot by some­one standing over her in the bus. The trajectory of the bullet was downwards.
Based on the testimony of the witnesses and what was presented to the court, Coroner Baird ruled that James was killed in circum­stances that ruled out accident or misadventure.
“The court is of the opinion that there is ground for suspecting that some person is guilty of an indict­able offence in the death of WPC James,” Baird ruled. But he was unable to reveal the identity of the person who discharged the fatal shot, and who should be charged and held responsible for that in­dictable offence.
In other words, Baird believed that someone, other than PC Pierre, was responsible for James’ death. He ordered that the file be sent back to the Commissioner of Police for further investigations. That was on September 2, 1992 – 27 years ago.
Is this a matter for the Cold Case Unit? James’ mother had been seeking justice for the death of her daughter. Her death is an­other statistic in the Police Ser­vice.

What did James see?

One of the persons who cham­pioned the cause was Jamaat Al Muslimeen leader, Yasin Abu Bakr. Bakr was convinced that James was not accidentally killed, but murdered.
He said that sometime before James died, she along with her husband and mother came to see him. “This woman was real frightened. She felt her life was in danger and she was scared. She believed that someone wanted to kill her and she wanted protec­tion.”
Bakr did not go into details of the discussion he had with James, but rumours circulated that James was on duty at Piarco International Airport when it is believed that she witnessed a deal with high-ranking government officials.
According to sources, James entered a room at Piarco and saw then Attorney General Selwyn Richardson and other persons in a questionable transaction. Was this deal the reason for Richardson’s murder in 1995?
But as far as James was con­cerned, she saw nothing. The other persons did not think so, however, so they exerted pressure on her and her superiors to get rid of her.
Bakr said he felt concerned for James’ safety in light of what he was told. He said he went to the then Commissioner of Police Louis Jim Rodriguez seeking as­sistance, but his enquiry fell on deaf ears.