Sunday, February 25, 2018

We had to close shop

Cordner: New Flying Squad operated without $ for six months...


'THEY DON'T WANT TO SOLVE CRIME': Retired Inspector Mervyn Cordner in Port of Spain last Friday.

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HEADQUARTERS: The Trident Technical and Logistical Services Ltd compound near Piarco yesterday. —Photos: ANISTO ALVES

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Despite adamant claims by former Flying Squad member, retired Inspector Mervyn Cordner that he now headed a covert unit called the New Flying Squad (NFS) under the auspices of the Ministry of National Security, investigations by the Sunday Express have revealed that no official approval was given for the elite unit to be reconstituted.

National Security officials — director of the National Security Operations Centre (NSOC), Gavin Heerah and adviser to National Security Minister Wayne Riley — facilitated several meetings last year with Cordner to discuss his proposed idea but talks with Cordner remained at an embryonic stage.

Cordner told the Sunday Express in an interview last Friday that he was promised a budget similar in quantum to the now-defunct Special Anti-Crime Unit of Trinidad and Tobago (SAUTT) for his operations.

He claimed that approval was given which led him to rent space at Factory Road at Piarco, recruit 75 men and spend money out of his own pocket with the expectation that he would be reimbursed.

The address which Cordner listed as the headquarters, (which he claimed to rent at $200,000 a month for the NFS) is the registered offices of Trident Technical and Logistical Services Ltd and Donrich Security Kennels Ltd.

Cordner, who claims to have a doctorate from Rochville University in Maryland, Virginia, USA could not provide the Sunday Express with a copy of an engagement letter with the ministry which gave the unit legitimacy.

He said none existed but he had several e-mails which he said substantiated his claim.

He said his operation was not illegal because it was sanctioned by Warner.

Warner has consistently denied such claims.

Cordner said he was now being "very selective" about information because he intends to pursue legal proceedings against Warner for breach of contract.

He could not provide the Sunday Express with a copy of that contract either.

Instead, he provided the Sunday Express with documents purporting to be legitimate documents of work conducted by his team, including raids and investigations undertaken.

He even claimed to have an arrest warrant for a former national security minister.

Questioned on what legal authority he undertook such operations, Cordner insisted his actions were legal.

He produced a template of an organisational structure which would have had him reporting to Heerah, who in turn, would have reported to Warner.

In a telephone interview yesterday, Heerah said the structure was never implemented but was merely a proposal.

Cordner claims that acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams was well aware of the unit because it was his responsibility to provide precepts for 35 NFS members.

Asked by the Sunday Express how many names were submitted for firearm licences, Cordner said none.

He claims that Williams' position for not granting licences was that some of the men in Cordner's unit were too corrupt.

Asked how many times he had met with Williams, Cordner said none.

He said Williams was never available for a meeting, but the key agencies of the country's national security apparatus were aware of the NFS' resurrection.

Questioned on whether they had ever met with Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar as head of the National Security Council or been invited to sit in on NSC meetings, Cordner said no.

"That is not how an elite organisation operates," he said.

"So you have no legal authority, no money from the ministry, you are not a part of the NSC and the Prime Minister is unaware of your operations, Minister Warner has denied your unit's operations so why pursue such an initiative in the first place?" asked the Sunday Express.

"In six months I was able to do what SAUTT couldn't do in five years," he said.

"Where is the evidence of that?" asked the Sunday Express.

"These people don't want to solve crime. Trust me. They want to talk and talk and let people feel they are doing something but they aren't doing anything at all," Cordner replied.

Francis Joseph, adviser to the National Security Minister, told the Sunday Express he facilitated a meeting between Cordner and Warner in July 2012.

Joseph said subsequent to that meeting Warner invited Cordner to bring in some of the men — among them former Flying Squad officers Lance Lashley, Trevor St Louis and Michael Lambert — to meet with then junior National Security Minister Collin Partap and Heerah.

After Partap was fired in August 2012, Cordner liaised with Heerah.

Heerah told the Sunday Express that contrary to Cordner's claims, his proposed NFS was never officially approved by the Ministry and no State money was spent on Cordner's operations.

However, Heerah conceded that he facilitated the procuring of vehicles for Cordner from a "civilian".

He declined to state the name of the individual who provided eight vehicles for Cordner's use. When asked the same question yesterday, Cordner said a car rental agency was recommended by Heerah but he would not give the name because it was "evidence" that the State was complicit with the NFS' operations.

It is not the first time that Cordner has tried to re-introduce the idea of a Flying Squad.

In 2008, several ex-Flying Squad members held a meeting at the Police Training Academy in St James to propose using their services to fight crime.

After it was presented to then National Security Minister Martin Joseph by former Commissioner of Police James Philbert, the proposal was rejected by the then PNM government which had set up its own elite unit, the SAUTT, to stem the crime wave.

After he was named National Security Minister Warner had said he would explore the possibility of bringing back a "Flying Squad that is sanitised".

Led by former Police Commissioner Randolph Burroughs, the Flying Squad operated from 1970 to 1986 but was disbanded after Burroughs was arrested on conspiracy to murder.

Fifty-two members of the unit, including Cordner, were suspended from the Police Service after the Scott Drug Report was released in 1987. Cordner said it was Warner's statement about exploring the possibility of bringing back the Flying Squad which caused him to seek out the minister.

He said after six months of operating without money, the NFS returned the cars to the dealer and closed up shop.

He said it was Warner's denial of the unit's existence which led him to publicly come clean. When it was pointed out by the Sunday Express that making public statements seemed contrary to his statement of how an elite organisation should operate, Cordner observed that the men who went out to get information deserved to get paid for their work.

He said he's now in the process of drafting a pre-action protocol letter to Warner with the hope of a $180 million settlement.