Friday, January 19, 2018

At the mercy of the killers

Express editorial logo314

Mark Fraser

When State witness Ricaldo Sanchez was murdered last month, the authorities should have been immediately galvanised into taking action to prevent similar killings. But, as the murder of another witness on Monday has demonstrated, the police, the judiciary, and National Security officials remain in apparently content slumber.

After Mr Sanchez was killed, the police said they had offered protection, since he had been receiving death threats, but he had refused. So the challenge faced by the police in that case was understandable (although they could still have set up surveillance on him). In the case of 25-year-old Stacy Roopan, who was shot dead in Couva as she was going to pick up her three-year-old son from pre-school, police protection could not only have saved her life, but might also have netted the assassins who came to kill her.

Ms Roopan had received a death threat two months ago in the form of a note left in her car after it was broken into. Apparently, the police took no follow-up action, whether with respect to trying to trace the note through forensic analysis or by assigning protection to Ms Roopan. Her killers, by contrast, were far more efficient. According to her father, he usually picked up his grandson but, as he wasn’t feeling well that day, she went instead. This means that the killers weren’t even relying on her routine to target her, but had her under constant watch, just waiting for an opportunity.

In these situations, the judiciary is also to blame. As we recommended in the case of Mr Sanchez, cases where the witnesses are deemed at risk should be fast-tracked, both with respect to giving testimony in court and also with respect to recording video-taped statements. Even before Ms Roopan had reported the death threat to the police, this should have been done.

Obviously, however, manpower is a challenge here. The Police Service is under-staffed, and so is the judiciary. This is where the politicians are also failing in their duty. Some of the manpower problems can be solved through technology, some through training, and some just by brute force hiring of more personnel. It is true that this will take some time, but it is also true that State witnesses have been regularly murdered for nearly a decade now. So, had measures been put in place when this trend first started, these incidents may have been nipped already. Instead, the likelihood is that more people accused of crimes in which witness testimony is crucial may decide that assassins are cheaper and more reliable than lawyers.

If and when the country reaches that stage, then the entire legal system will have collapsed.