Our lawless beaches: Turtle poachers threaten violence against witnesses

Police absent as killers raid nests, butcher hawksbill turtles right on the beach!

“The field director noted the poachers were getting even bolder and more aggressive, to the point where they were threatening eyewitnesses against making reports to police. So afraid was one person that she only reported an incident to the project three days after the act and she could not be convinced to make a statement to police.”

… from The Nation article Turtles under attack

Editorial by BFP

The increasing reluctance of Bajans to report crimes or to testify in court is directly related to fears of retaliation. People also have an unwillingness to experience the well known abuses of the police and court system towards witnesses, but it is the witness fear factor that is the first barrier to our police when they arrive at a crime scene. There can be two hundred people in a field but nobody ever sees or hears anything – gunshots and screams included.

This lack of confidence in the ability of the police and the courts to protect witnesses from threats and harm is seriously undermining the quality of life in Barbados. There is a general realisation that the lawless elements are becoming bolder as they know too well that the police aren’t likely to come when called, and if the police do come, ordinary folks will say nothing because they are too frightened to become witnesses.

Although judges, lawyers and citizens have been vocal about this disturbing trend of threats and other intimidation tactics against witnesses, neither the government nor the police have done anything to address the problem. In the courts it is still a common occurrence for charges to be dropped with the thin explanation that “the victim no longer desires the charges to proceed”. The judges, lawyers and the DPP never make further serious enquiries as to why the victim has “changed their mind” as I once heard a lawyer tell the court.

Neither have our lawmakers in Parliament seen fit to change the laws to enable judges to force victims and witnesses to testify. This change, combined with prosecutors refusing to drop charges, has proven especially effective in reducing domestic violence in the U.K. and several American jurisdictions we’ve read about.

Epidemic of turtle killing – with no witnesses

This year the grisly turtle remains are turning up everywhere. The Nation reports that the number of known killings so far this nesting season is double that of all last year.

Darren Browne, field director of the Barbados Sea Turtle Project, says that folks are too frightened to call the police because the poachers are threatening witnesses. Mr. Browne invites witnesses to call the Sea Turtle hotline instead of the police and his organization will then call the police. This is supposed to keep the witnesses’ identities from the police, while alerting the authorities so that the police can attend at the scene and try to catch poachers in the act.

Although Mr. Browne means well, his offer to act as a ‘go between’ so that witnesses will not be threatened is sad proof of the public’s lack of confidence in the police and the courts.

This is not something that citizens can fix: it is up to the police and the courts to rectify a problem that they largely created through their long term uncaring and negligence in protecting witnesses and ultimately failing to protect the integrity of the judicial process.

Further Reading about witness intimidation

Photo: The butchered body of a turtle at Bath. (Picture by Natalie Wrighton, courtesy of The Nation.)

May 31, 2012 – Another home firebombed

April 30, 2012 – Court witness held at gunpoint, tied up, beaten at home. Serious head injuries.

April 4, 2012 – British tourists firebombed in Barbados: Mistaken identity over anti-government lawsuit.

August 17, 2011 – Selective Denial, Cover-up by Barbados Commissioner of Police

February 10, 2011 – Barbados High Court Judge: Public execution murders and witnesses won’t testify, undermining courts.

November 13, 2010 – Boscobel Shooting: Residents in fear as Barbados Police fail to respond

October 10, 2010 – Arch Cot Inquest witness intimidation: Professor Hans G. Machel reports intimidation, fears of arson, bodily harm, job loss against potential witnesses.

June 22, 2008 – COVER-UP: Royal Barbados Police Force Ignores Violent Threats To Businessman

May 14, 2008 – Justice In Barbados – Shut Up Or Else! Court Witness Fired From University Of West Indies Professorship. Brother Of Chief Justice Simmons Delivered The Threat

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14 Comments

Filed under Barbados, Crime & Law, Environment, Wildlife

14 responses to “Our lawless beaches: Turtle poachers threaten violence against witnesses

  1. Karl Watson

    The increase in poachings must be linked to some demand for turtle meat. Some body out there must know who is serving up trtle soup or stew. That information could lead to a conviction. Despite your comments on the role of the police, in the long run it is the citizenry of this country which must decide whether a living turtle with its role in the eco system and its capacity to earn foreign exchange for the country is worth more than a dead turtle. Maybe some hidden CCTV monitors at the more vulnerable sites may reveal the identities of the miscreants who are now so wantonly undoing all the good efforts of the Barbados Sea Turtle Project.

  2. BFP

    Hi Karl,

    The government announced that hidden cameras were going to be placed at some of the popular tipping sites, but I don’t think they ever did that. They announce much and do little.

    In the last 20 years they couldn’t even pass Environmental Protection Legislation, or fix the seagate at Graeme Hall.

    You’re correct that citizens have to do something about the turtle poaching, but if being a witness gets your house firebombed, what’s the gain in that?

    Police could sit in the bushes for a few nights and arrest one or two poachers in the act. What would the fine be? The court let a fellow go for sea eggs last year. All the work to catch and prosecute and bring the witness and the court let him go. Many people saw that and learned a lesson.

    Sorry to be negative but no government will put cameras on the beach for turtles. They talk and have their conferences and hand out their environmental green colouring books to the children but no laws are passed or enforced. IMHO.

    Cliverton

  3. judyjudy

    shocking

  4. Tudor

    NATO, no action talk only!!!! Both the DLP & BLP are talk only when it comes to environmental matters, this has been evident by their lack of action over the years.
    It is a terrible thing for someone to have bashed this poor turtle’s head, senseless as it was then left on the beach. Bajans believe “its only a turtle no big thing” but it is a big thing! One in every 1,000 youngsters live to maturity that’s a sobering thought.
    Only last week I visited a beach in Florida and was amazed to see at least a hundred turtle nests roped off with tape and signs posted. Driving in there are signs saying Turtle nesting area and the lights on shops, businesses and street lights are turned off during certain months of the year so as not to confuse the turtle when they hatch.

    I had only that same day read the report online and so it really impacted on me. It is a great shame that we allow things like this to happen we should be ALL supporting the McGill team who do such great work.

  5. John

    Unbelievable.

    People nowadays will do anything for a dollar.

  6. LOL

    “Animals don’t count” — it’s ‘only’ a turtle! NuhBody en dead!

    Heck, as it is with human life being so cheap and abundant
    HUMAN life almost doesn’t count (other than as a voter).
    You know what I’m talking about.

  7. Sunshine Sunny Shine

    I was informed that in the Oistins area, tourist and locals alike frequent the jetty of the fish market to swim and take pictures of the turtles. I was even told that no restrictions exist at the market to stop persons from seeing these turtles. As a result, the turtles are slowly becoming accustom to the presence of humans, whom I was told are able to get “fish sides” from the market to feed them and watch them come to the surface. There is even a report that two turtles were butchered on the jetty. Now my question to this, if it is so, is why the authorities allow visitors, locals and who- so- ever- will to access what I thought was a jetty for the off-loading of fish. Obviously if the turtles are so accustom to the humans and feedings this makes fishing them out as easy as 123. I think all the sites where turtles are known to frequent should be monitored with CCTV or the authorities put stricter guidelines and controls in place to protect this endangered species. But I doubt if anyting would be done. Seems government could not give a rats ass about anything to do with fishing barren the protection of turtles. After all ain’t no money in it.

  8. Catch as catch can

    @Sunshine Sunny Shine

    You are correct in everything you said but you’re missing a big part of the puzzle.

    Some of ‘da boys’ charge to take the tourists to the end of the jetty and throw the fish guts in for the turtles. There’s a real little business going on there and it’s not in fish sides. I’ve seen them get a US tenner for a show and they can do five or ten on a good day.

    There was a fight over territory last year but the manager Mr. S stepped in and took control to ‘license’ the activitiy. I bet he gets a share. Have to or he would not do it.

  9. 18

    IF I catch them ‘I GOING POACH THEM ‘
    GERMAN COUPLE WORKING at Side Surf Bar and Restaurant

    Rockley (South East end of ACCRA Beach .

    – How is it that German man can come in Barbados lease a bar and

    restaurant and walk about like he owns Accra beach , harassing a guy

    that has been going to Accra from the age of 10- years old and a

    Barbados national !!!

    People call him to rent his Kayaks ! Now NCC are also harassing him

    cause German want that area to do water sports as well !! Calling

    Jet-Ski (illegally for guests) Kayak Man has Video evidence of this

    )Accra is not zoned for motorized water sports .One this man is parkd

    with his kayaks 100 ft from high water mark It is legal and could

    even put up his sign .

    Some Immigration inspectors need to look at this before things get out

    of hand , this German man is payoing off and cozing up to NCC and

    Accra life Guards , who are also ganging up on this Kayak Jack , who

    has applied for a NCC license . His brother has Video Evidence of NCC

    Harassment from 2007 and has played it for Thompson at NCC head

    Quarters and Thompson offered him a NCC license Immediately .

    Let Foreigners know that Barbados is for Barbadians first , I

    wonder if this guy was black if the German man and his buddies

    could do this .

    As far as I know The law says 100 feet from High water mark and beyond

    is Barbados and Not under the control of NCC ! Unless there is a hotel

    or Residence there .

    These people are in his face invading his space and coaxing him and

    provoking him to do something that they can use against him !

    Do they not know that provocation s as a threat ! and can be meet with

    Self Defense !

    I expect this matter will be looked at before it ends up in The News

    Paper and The Underground Barbados site .

    Sincerely A Barbadian of 9 -12 generations history

    !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1 Vote

  10. Citizens with GUNS could stop these CRIMINALS !

  11. yatiniteasy

    I saw someone with a truck with some seacraft on a trailer being interviewed today by what looked like a uniformed person at about midday, right next to the business place mentioned. Who was it? What was the problem?Was it related to the post by 18.

  12. Mark Fenty

    The Harbor Police no longer police Barbados waters, so the anticipation for an arrest seems quite slim won’t you say?

  13. Mark Fenty

    I think that is was a lack of foresightednesson the part of the decision makers in Barbados, to do away with the Harbor Police. Every other police in the developed world has one.

  14. 36

    As somenone who early in December went swimming in Barbados with turtles, I am sadened to read about this. Well done BFP for highlighting this issue.