DISGRUNTLED: Olive Ward at the Commission of Enquiry into the 1990 coup attempt at the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Henry Street, Port of Spain, yesterday.

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Bound with Dookeran's tie

WPC recounts Red House ordeal

By Ria Taitt Political Editor

The silver grey tie that Minister of Finance Winston Dookeran was wearing at the time Muslimeen insurgents stormed the Parliament on July 27 1990, was produced at the Commission of Enquiry yesterday, by policewoman, Constable Olive Ward, who was tied up with it during her captivity in the Red House.

Ward, who has kept the tie in pristine condition over the last 22 years, said she has kept it in a plastic bag in a drawer at her home all these years. "Occasionally I would look at it, wash it and put it back in the bag in the drawer," she said.

Ward, who was attached to the Belmont Police Station, was assigned to duty in the Red House on a regular basis. She was on duty in the Chamber at the time of the Muslimeen assault and she hid in the Speakers' Office from about 6 p.m. until 10.45 p.m. when some insurgents found her. "I just stood in a corner in the Speaker's office," she said, when asked if she tried to escape from the Red House during the almost five hours that she was alone and hiding. Eventually three Muslimeen members found her and brought her back to the chamber to join other hostages. But they had run out of plastic tie straps and so they used Dookeran's tie to bind her hands.

Ward said during the time she was in the Speaker's office, she heard male voices talking in another language, "which did not sound like either French nor Spanish". She said she tended to believe that the language was Arabic. This caused chairman of the enquiry, Sir David Simmons to ask whether she thought the voices were those of non-Trinidadians. When she said yes, Simmons said: "I would put it a little higher. It is possible they were mercenaries."

Ward said while she was in the chamber, she indicated that she was thirsty. There was no water, but there was Seven Up. She said she was astounded when the Muslimeen insurgent who was putting the Seven Up to her lips for her to take sips of it, said, "Sister, tomorrow is my birthday, I will be 14 years old." Ward, said after the insurgent, who held a pistol in his hand, an Uzi strapped across his shoulder and a school bag with ammunition, told her of his age, she became incapable of drinking any more.

Ward said at one stage while she was in captivity she heard former prime minister Arthur NR Robinson telling policemen to cease fire on the walkie-talkie (which the Muslimeen had obtained from one of the officers on duty in the Red House) and she heard the officers at the Command Centre at St James Barracks cursing Robinson and saying that they (the Muslimeen) should kill him. "I felt embarrassed," she said.

Ward who said the Muslimeen took the position that they don't harm women, said Bilaal Abdullah told her on the Saturday that when the ambulance came for Leo Des Vignes, she could also leave with them. She said when she was walking out of the Red House, a Muslimeen member told her, "Sister, when yuh go home, take care of your little boy." "I had a five-month-old son (at that time)," she told the Commission.

Ward said she was unable to come back to work until 1993. Up to this day she has never returned to the Red House. She said for a long time afterwards, she had difficulty sleeping at nights, and up to now, she is jumpy whenever she hears any explosion or firecrackers. Asked how she felt about the Muslimeen today, she said when she hears them making requests for children and for their school, she thinks about the fact that her children could have been without a mother (had she been killed during the attempted coup). "They (the Muslimeen) should keep quiet," she said.

Ward said she attended an awards function after the coup attempt at which only PC Glenda Mitchell (who was shot) was honoured. She said as far as she could remember no other police officer was honoured. She said she felt "disgruntled". Noting that no one (except John Grant) ever spoke to her about what she went through, nor did she receive any counselling, she said: "I felt that if police officers suffered such trauma, a little more care and understanding should have been showed to us, instead of leaving us by the wayside," she said.

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