EDITORIAL: Who is being protected and served?

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The latest news regarding multi-murder accused Delano Forbes is chilling. According to the police, they now believe that the Swetes villager murdered Morison “Chung” Thomas while on the run from custody earlier this year. 
From the moment that it was reported that Forbes escaped police custody on February 12, another murder was everyone’s number one concern. People were scared and seemingly for good reason, we now learn. He had already been labelled a serial killer and compared to a “vampire” by the police and is currently in prison awaiting trial for the three other murders he allegedly committed; Wilfred ‘Bongo’ Williams, Shawn Henry and Lisue Samuel.
Without a doubt, the public will be angry about this development and the police force must get out in front of this situation before the already tattered image of the force is shredded even further.  While we are sure that most people welcome the fact that a charge has been brought in the case of Thomas’ murder, we are also sure that most people will also agree that the murder on March 7 was preventable, if not for what appears to be the incompetence of the police officers entrusted with his security. If Forbes is proven to be the killer, the police certainly cannot sweep this incident under the carpet.
So far, we have heard little regarding the investigation into Forbes’ escape. The minister responsible for Public Safety and law enforcement agencies, Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin, referred to the circumstances surrounding the escape as a “gross neglect of duty”. When the incident happened, he came to the public and proclaimed that he had demanded a report and he promised to make the information public once he received it.
Transparency and accountability were promised, but within days, the police contradicted the minister and said that the matter was an internal issue and probes into matters such as the conduct of officers during the escape are normally not for public consumption. So, while the families of the victims clamoured for answers, they were ultimately greeted with a stone wall of silence. The force, which is to serve and protect the public, essentially gave notice that its service to the public had secrecy limits. 
Today, with the charging of Forbes for the murder of the Matthews villager, Thomas, the walls of secrecy regarding what exactly happened to allow Forbes to escape, must be demolished.  Just as the murder accused must face the music and be held responsible for his actions, so too must the police.  This “gross neglect of duty”, as described by the attorney general, cannot be allowed to simply slip under the carpet without any accountability.  The public was put at risk; one man is now reported to have been killed because of the “gross neglect of duty” so the public has a right to know what happened.  This cannot be considered an “internal” matter.
It is worth reminding everyone, including the police, how gross the neglect of duty was.
Twenty-three-year-old Forbes was reportedly shackled at his ankles at the time he fled from officers by jumping off “a cliff” and “running” away in the thick underbrush of the area.  He was reportedly accompanied by five officers, three of whom were attached to the Serious Crimes Unit, and the other two were photographers.
At the time of his escape, the police did not immediately alert the public about the triple-accused murderer’s escape. OBSERVER media and the public first learnt of Forbes’ escape from a concerned citizen who called a reporter stating that she had spotted the shackled man alone in the Swetes area. That call was received at 4:22 p.m., almost four hours after the time of Forbes’ escape (which the police stated was around 12:30 p.m. or 12:40 p.m.).  He remained on the run for almost one month.
In responding to criticism of the police at the time, Atlee Rodney, Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) acknowledged that “This one has some public implications” and surmised that he didn’t “think the police would hide what happened,” but we know little more now than we did then. Not making the report public may not be hiding it but it has the same effect. And what of the grand promise of transparency and accountability by Minister Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin? Rodney indicated that a report on the matter was presented to the Attorney General, Benjamin, but he had later not followed through on his promise to make it public..
Meanwhile, the family of Morison “Chung” Thomas is left to mourn the senseless killing of their loved one, who was only 62 years old at the time he was killed. We cannot imagine how they feel as they ponder the “gross neglect of duty” that led to Forbes’ escape and the immediate response of the police. We are all left to wonder if the police had immediately raised a public alarm, if Forbes’ capture could have been made sooner and Thomas might be alive today.  Seems like we are we all expected to take comfort in the fact that the acting deputy commissioner of Police, Everton Jeffers, felt it wise and proper to recommend an award for those officers who recaptured the escaped triple-murder accused.
The only way to give some relief to families of the victims and the public is through complete transparency. The answers may have the potential of making a bad situation worse but it is the only right thing to do.
One thing is for sure, staying on the dark road of secrecy definitely will make things worse.
We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.

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