Rodney COI Report Lawyer bemoans lack of statement from “Skip Roberts” …says he was snubbed by commission

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GLEN HANOMAN

By Telesha Ramnarine

AMID the fallout over the Walter Rodney Commission of Inquiry, lead Counsel, Glen Hanoman, said former Crime Chief Cecil ‘Skip’ Roberts was not allowed to give evidence solely because he did not tender a statement to the Commission. President Granger made mention of the lack of a statement from Roberts, noting that: “I would like to say that the report is very badly flawed in many respects. From the start we realised that the commission was paying a lot of attention to hearsay evidence and the most glaring example of the flaw in the commission’s report is the fact that they decided to accept the evidence of a convict. They brought a convict, who at the time was a constable in the Guyana Police Force. He reports verbatim on a conversation between the President of Guyana, the Chief of Staff of the Guyana Defence Force and two assistant commissioners of police and he was not present. How does he know what was going on? And why should the commission believe that he knew what was going on?” the President said.

According to the release, President Granger noted that a key witness, who was available to the commission and had knowledge of what would have possibly transpired, was not allowed to testify. The President noted that he plans to challenge the findings of the report.

The COI into the death of the former brilliant historian/politician Dr. Rodney, who was allegedly assassinated some 35 years ago, opened in the Supreme Court Law Library in Georgetown early May 2014. Although the final report on the findings of the COI was completed and perused by officials, Hanoman said he is saddened that a copy of it was not forwarded to him. “The trouble is I am very upset. No courtesy was extended to me. It is normal courtesy to provide a report to the participating counsel. I knew most of what happened,” he told Chronicle yesterday.

He said he noted in the press reports that criticised the fact that evidence was not taken from Roberts. “It was a poor decision to bring him to the country without a statement to the Commission and therefore he could not give evidence.” Hanoman said he sat down with Roberts and tried to take a statement from him, but Roberts only kept saying that he could not remember anything. “I told him to return at a later date but he never did. He never did although my staff left messages for him at the hotel he was staying at.”

The Lead Counsel said he was really upset that he was not consulted on the fact that Roberts was going to be brought into the country. “I think he came because he got a free trip, because he had nothing material to say. It was just a whole game.” Hanoman is contending that the wrong impression is being peddled in the media as to why Roberts could not give evidence. “No other witness was allowed to give evidence without first giving a statement. I had hoped to get another try with him but I just don’t know why he never returned.” On another point, Hanoman said the contention that evidence should not have been taken from Robert Gates because he is a convict is in itself flawed. “It doesn’t matter if you are a convict or not, you can still give evidence. Not because he is a convict means we should disbelieve everything he says. A convict can tell the truth. We have convicts who give evidence everyday in the courts.”

However President Granger insisted that: “The commission brought one of the persons who was present at that meeting into this country for 10 days, kept him at a hotel and then sent him back to the United States without asking him a single question. Why should the commission accept the word of a convict and refuse to bring onto the stand, the Deputy Commissioner of Police, who in fact was supposed to be at that meeting with former President Burnham and was also the chief investigator into the circumstances surrounding the death of Dr. Rodney? So when you look at details of the evidence provided it is clear that the report itself is very badly flawed and we intend to challenge the findings of the report and the circumstances under which that report was conducted,” the President told reporters on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Commissioners Richard Cheltenham, Seenath Jairam, and Jacqueline Samuels-Brown, concluded that Rodney was the victim of a State-organised assassination and this could only have been possible with the knowledge of then People’s National Congress (PNC) Prime Minister Forbes Burnham. The COI also concluded that Burnham’s grip and absolute control over the Guyanese society was so firm and extensive, that he de-humanised and belittled many Guyanese by compelling them to clean trenches, canals or drains. The commissioners further found that the late soldier Gregory Smith, carried out the killing and he was then spirited out of the country to French Guiana in an elaborate operation spearheaded by the Guyana Police Force (GPF) and the Guyana Defence Force (GDF).

President Granger lamented that while government had expended large sums of money on the commission and its work, in the pursuit of truth and closure, none of these has been achieved despite the handing over of the report. “It has cost the Guyanese taxpayers a tremendous amount of money. We could have built 10 schools with the money that was spent on that commission… They are just gobbling up money and at the same time they are not providing the Guyanese people with the truth. We supported the commission’s pursuit of truth, but the commission has varied from its mandate and has accepted a lot of hearsay evidence and not given the Guyanese people what they deserve. That is to say, what were the circumstances under which Dr. Rodney acquired a certain device and how that device came to be detonated. That is what we want to know,” the President expressed.