By Gemma Handy
British detectives probing the killing of Customs inspector Nigel Christian departed the country after just two weeks on the ground.
The high-ranking police were invited by local authorities to investigate the murder of the 44-year-old who was kidnapped from his home and executed in July in a crime which shocked the nation.
The brutal incident prompted a series of street protests demanding justice and calling for assistance from foreign police in finding the killers.
Observer understands that a detective chief superintendent and a detective inspector from England’s regional police forces spent a fortnight in Antigua engaged in discussions with their local counterparts and the Director of Public Prosecutions. They are believed to have left the country several days ago.
An insider told Observer that investigators are still awaiting key forensic evidence, but that “progress” has been made.
“It’s too early to say it’s nearing completion but much, much progress has been done,” the insider said.
“We are trying to get the forensics completed which takes some time because it involves different technologies; we are waiting for the results,” they added.
How much the probe has focused on the murder alone, and how much on the rot of corruption said to be endemic throughout the Customs department – and which many believe to be the motivating factor behind the murder – remains unclear.
Christian’s killing came nine months after another Customs worker – Cornell Benjamin – was shot in the legs. Both men had apparently been looking into a major fraud relating to a multi-million-dollar shortfall in revenue on items shipped into the country’s port.
Meanwhile, morale among Customs workers is said to be at rock bottom with some apparently considering quitting.
A WhatsApp text shared between colleagues and leaked to Observer declares officers to be “still hurting and extremely fearful”.
“Many are contemplating resignation,” it continues. “We don’t know the motive or who is next. We feel as though the department, the government and law enforcement have all failed us miserably.”
The ostensibly sluggish pace of justice has caused consternation among many, both within the department and amid the general public too.
One Customs insider told Observer, “I don’t have any confidence or hope that there’s a will to intercept or tackle the corruption – or look into how deep it runs.
“It’s not only inherent, it’s facilitated.”
The worker continued that many officers feel “the safe way to go is to turn a blind eye” to malfeasance.
“They feel if something looks corrupt, the safest thing to do is nothing. If you have law enforcement saying that, that’s an awful place to be. Things are really in a bad way and that’s the honest truth.
“They say it comes down to your life. When a motive can’t be ascertained and no arrests have been made but you are seeing a trend – first a shooting and then a killing – you look at how you can protect yourself and your family.
“Nigel Christian was at home when they came for him. People don’t feel safe at work or at home.”
The insider claimed bent practices were the norm within the department, saying “it’s not going to change without serious intervention”.
They said information reaching workers regarding the murder probe had been sparse.
“We are not hearing anything, either internally or externally. I don’t know of anyone within Customs who has been questioned by the police. I don’t know if they have been doing it incognito, or at people’s homes, but it seems strange,” they added.
Christian had worked for the division for more than 20 years and was promoted to principal inspector of Customs last year. He was described by colleagues as a principled and scrupulous employee.
Some say that dedication may have been his downfall. His skills navigating the department’s high-tech ASYCUDA software, which boosts compliance through its handling of Customs declarations and accounting procedures, among others, were said to be unsurpassed.
Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs Steadroy Benjamin declined to comment yesterday but he previously pledged to “spare no efforts” in scrutinising the murder and bringing the assailants to justice.
Comptroller of Customs Raju Boddu did not respond to requests for comment. Prime Minister Gaston Browne, who previously offered a $50,000 reward for anyone who provided information leading to an arrest, told Observer the corruption claims were “a matter for law enforcement, which is being addressed by them and other external agents to include Scotland Yard and the FBI”.