Support Village Voice News With a Donation of Your Choice.
– evidence against them found to be “weak”, “tenuous” and unreliable
By Lisa Hamilton
On November 9, 2018, a Fly Jamaica aircraft crash-landed at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) and, in the aftermath, several firefighters were dragged before the Court and charged for allegedly stealing valuable items from the crash site belonging to the pilot and passengers.
Comb the internet and the only information to be found is that branding the first responders as “dishonest thieves”. However, on October 28, 2020, the firefighters accused and charged for the crime were cleared by the Court due to evidence led by the State being “weak”, “tenuous” and unreliable.
Around 03:00 hours on November 9, 2018, a Fly Jamaica Toronto-bound flight, OJ 256, crashed on emergency landing in Guyana with over 100 passengers. Moments after takeoff, the plane was forced to return to Guyana due to ‘hydraulic issues’ and crashed into a fence off the runway coming to a halt at heap of sand.
Firefighters were quick to the scene. On the same day, it was reported that several firefighters were being questioned by the police in relation to stolen items from those aboard the plane. A day later, Fire Chief, Marlon Gentle confirmed that 14 firefighters, including supervisors, were detained for questioning.
The items reported as stolen included cellphones, tablets, perfumes and more and were said to belong to the pilot and passengers on the plane.
There were only six firefighters on duty that day but several others came out to assist following the crash. It led to the police detaining 14 for questioning who submitted statements and, eventually, 12 were detained at the Timehri Police Station for 72 hours and released on $100,000 station bail.
According to police reports, one of the firefighters, a Supervisor, confessed to stealing items, after handing over two cell phones while others maintained their innocence although other articles were found in a fire truck.
Not long after, Guyana Police Force (GPF) Public Relations Officer (PRO) Jairam Ramlakhan told the Guyana Times that based on the advice of the Force’s then Legal Advisor, Justice Claudette Singh, one of the firemen would be charged with simple larceny, while another three would face charges to the effect of “having under their control articles reasonably suspected to have been stolen”.
Appearing at the Georgetown Magistrates’ Court before Chief Magistrate Ann McLennan on November 28, 2018 were Aubrey Frank, Jamie Kingston and Royden Kennedy — the three who maintained their innocence.
Though Police Prosecutor, Gordon Mansfield, objected to bail being granted to the defendants based on the serious nature of the offence and the circumstances under which it occurred, the Magistrate released the trio on $100,000 bail each.
The fourth firefighter, Collis Williams, 37, of Coverden, East Bank Demerara, was subsequently taken out of the prisoner’s dock and charged before the Court for stealing two phones valued at $146,000 belonging to the pilot. Though previous reports state that he admitted to stealing the phones, Williams denied the charge after it was read to him by the Magistrate. He too was released on 100,000 bail by the Magistrate. When the matter was moved over to the Providence Magistrates’ Court, Williams later changed his plea to guilty.
Almost two years later, as the case against Frank, Kennedy and Kingston dragged on with no hard evidence pointing to their involvement in the crime, their attorneys submitted a ‘No Case’ to the Court and the Court cleared the three men of the charges on Wednesday.
Speaking to the Village Voice, Frank said that there was no evidence linking three of the firefighters [inclusive of himself] to the crime, apart from the items being found in the firetruck. Meanwhile, he noted that the firetruck was accessible by all who were on the scene.
“We feel that had these police done a more robust investigation then none of us would have been placed before the Courts except the [firefighter] rank that admitted. He was charged separately from us. We were charged for receiving stolen articles. They never said to us who we received these stolen articles from; they never pinpointed who alleged that they gave us these articles or who said that we instructed them to place articles in the truck, nothing like that,” he said.
These were similar arguments brought by the lawyers which represented the three men, Leslie Sobers [Frank], Eusi Anderson [Kingston] and Asa Shepherd [Kennedy]. Kingston told the Village Voice at the Court that he was pleased that his name was finally cleared and that he is eager to return to a normal life.
“I’ve been through a lot of hard times without working, having to pay lawyers every month and now that it’s finished it’s like a weight has lifted off of my shoulders, I can finally breathe properly and get back to my normal life,” he said.
Frank also indicated that none of the 15 witnesses inclusive of firemen, police officers and civilians, had pointed out the three firefighters as suspects and, during trial, there were major discrepancies in the information provided by police officers called as witnesses by the prosecution.
The three firefighters are now left with the public stain of the charges previously laid against them being plastered throughout the local media and even internationally. They are concerned about the damages to their character, their livelihood, and the embarrassment to their families over the period of two years.
Anderson stated: “They’ve endured almost two years of harrowing damage to their reputation. They’ve endured almost two years of vicious attacks on social media…the question now is, how do we as a society, as a system which his brutally harsh to people who are presumed innocent, lend them credibility, how do we restore their credibility. Today, this Court took the first and most important step in this process.”
Kenndy thanks God for answering the prayers of himself and his colleagues to be proven innocent by the Court. “Coming here every month to show that we’re innocent…God has brought us through it. We are here, vindicated of all charges, we are free,” he said.
The men were expected to receive half of their salaries as the matter made its way through the Court and, if deemed innocent, they would receive the withheld portion for the period of time up to when justice was served. However, from November 2018 to present, the Guyana Fire Service (GFS) has not provided the three men with their salaries which placed a great burden on their families.