Of fires and shootings

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In a conversation with Fire Chief Elvis Weaver last evening, he indicated that the investigation into the cause of the fire at the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) this past Monday morning is continuing. We trust that the fire investigators will act as a matter of urgency. We need to be able to rest easy, secure in the knowledge that there is nothing untoward afoot by those who might wish to thwart the dispensation of justice. Law and order are pillars of a civilised society. If our CID can be attacked with impunity, then woe are we. The dogs would have gone with our fair State.

Mercifully, no lives were lost, and as per Chief Weaver, no records were destroyed. For that, we are grateful. Of course, we were fortunate, but that might not be the case if there is another one. We suggest that this ought to be a cautionary tale to those responsible for securing evidentiary material.

The early morning blaze on Newgate Street brought back to mind the Globe Hotel fire, as well as a fire at our airport in 1991 that destroyed two LIAT hangars, an aircraft and a few office buildings. It also brought back sad memories of the dreadful fire on Greenbay Hill where a pregnant lady lost her life. And not forgetting the Portuguese store in St John’s that was razed to the ground in 1863. A huge fire at Her Majesty’s Prison in 1999 resulted in the destruction of an enormous cache of precious historical documents and records that had been stored there. We have never recovered from that loss. We never will. The good news in that fire was that no lives were lost, and even though the inmates had to be evacuated, no one effected an escape.

Again, we are not sure what caused the fire at the CID office. It was a newly-refurbished colonial-era building and we cannot imagine that the wirings and fixtures could be faulty. Carelessness on the part of someone could also have been the spark. But we will refrain from speculating, as happened quite a bit when word of the fire first broke. Some Antiguans and Barbudans wondered whether there was a connection to one of the high-profile cases that are currently under investigation. We certainly hope that that is not the case.

We also hope that this is not another brazen assault on law enforcement. We must confess that we are on edge here in Antigua and Barbuda, what with the fire at a police officer’s home in Villa a few weeks ago, the shooting of Customs Officer Cornell Benjamin who was shot three times exactly a year ago, and the kidnapping and execution of Customs Officer Nigel Christian in July of this year. In the cases of Benjamin and Christian – limbs of the law – the wheels of justice seemed to be turning too slowly for some concerned citizens, and there were calls for expert outside help. From all reports, that help has been forthcoming from Scotland Yard (we understand that they’re on the ground) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (remotely). All well and good.

Only after all these cases are successfully investigated (fires and shootings), will we be able to rest easy. To the authorities we say, ‘have at them!’

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