“My ranks were not at Lindo Creek” – Seelall Persaud tells COI
By Devina Samaroo
Commissioner of Police, Seelall Persaud today testified before the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the 2008 Lindo Creek Massacre where he recalled in detail his pursuit of the notorious ‘Fineman Gang’ at Christmas Falls and the Guyana Police Force’s (GPF) investigation into the killing of the eight miners at a camp owned by Leonard Arokium.
Persaud – who was Crime Chief at the time – told the CoI that he was given a map and instructions from the then Police Commissioner Henry Greene to conduct an operation in the Christmas Falls area where the country’s most wanted man, Rondell “Fineman” Rawlins, and his gang were said to be hiding out.
Christmas Falls operation
Persaud – who is currently on pre-retirement leave – said he had mobilised a team consisting of Assistant Commissioner Clifton Hicken, Deputy Superintendent Withrite, Inspector Layne, Inspector Narine, Assistant Superintendent Lowenfield and Deputy Superintendent Nurse and on June 5, 2008, they left Georgetown by road for Christmas Falls, Upper Berbice River.
Persaud said the team arrived on the right bank of Christmas Falls around 17:00hrs and slept overnight, and the following day, Hicken and a team journeyed over the 200-feet Berbice River by boat [an estimated three-minute ride]. He told the CoI that the noise of the boat’s engine was drowned out by the sounds of the waterfall.
Persaud said shortly after the team arrived at the location, he heard “rapid gunfire” and he subsequently crossed the river where he was briefed by Hicken on what transpired.
The Top Cop said he was told that when the team was approaching the camp, they came under fire from the gang and so they returned fire, killing one of the gunmen – Otis Fifee. Persaud said he later discovered that the hideout was on a forest concession owned by Phillip Bynoe.
Nine firearms including rifles, shotguns and handguns as well as a quantity of ammunition were retrieved from the scene, Persaud said.
He also recalled that Hicken informed that the other members of the gang escaped “north” in the direction of Lindo Creek. Persaud said to his knowledge, the other gunmen were not injured.
The then Crime Chief said he immediately contacted Police Commissioner Greene and informed him of what transpired and that his team was then instructed to retreat. He told the CoI that Green informed that the Joint Services will be deployed to pursue the gang.
“My ranks were not at Lindo Creek. They were at Christmas Falls…I am sure they were not there [Lindo Creek] because we left ([Christmas Falls] on the 6th [June 2008] and arrived [in Georgetown] on the 6th,” Persaud said.
Apart from his team, Persaud said he is not aware of any other ranks from the GPF being deployed to the Lindo Creek location around the period of the 2008 Massacre.
Meanwhile, the then Crime Chief said the Joint Services went back to the location around June 7, 2008 but Persaud was not aware when the entire team returned.
He recalled that there was a team in a Guyana Defence Force (GDF) chopper and they returned on the same day.
The investigation into Lindo Creek
Persaud said he learned of the incident at Lindo Creek and an investigation was launched but he was not heavily involved. He said the then Commissioner Greene had assigned the Head of the Police Office of Professional Responsibility Heeralall Makhanlall to lead the probe. The team, Persaud said, comprised ranks from the Criminal Investigation Department (CID).
Persaud said through the press, he became aware of claims by the owner of the camp that the Joint Services was responsible for killing the miners at Lindo Creek.
Persaud said he joined a team headed by then Prime Minister Samuel Hinds, who was acting President and visited Arokium at his residence in Tuschen, East Bank Essequibo where he took a statement.
“The following day I received instructions that Head OPR would lead the investigations…I only had ranks that were part of the investigations under the instructions of Mr Makhanlall,” Persaud told the CoI.
Persaud told the CoI that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) had recommended that the investigation be closed and he was comfortable with that advice.
Persaud said he was satisfied that there was “sufficient evidence” to support that the Fineman Gang killed the Lindo Creek miners.
Commissioner Justice Donald Trotman was however surprised at Persaud’s response and remarked that he [Trotman] is surprised that the DPP would make such a recommendation.
When questioned by Justice Trotman whether the GPF did not find it necessary to challenge the DPP’s advice, Persaud responded in the negative as he explained that “given the fact that the perpetrators that the investigation identified had all been killed except for one, who was cooperating with prosecutions…we were comfortable with that…well, I was.”
When furthered questioned on this matter, Persaud said, “I see it different in this case because the evidence collected would have shown with some amount of certainty who were responsible.”
Persaud said, based on experience, a Coroner’s Inquest is only done when there is uncertainty about those responsible for the deaths.
The next public hearing is scheduled for March15, 2018.