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
August 17, 2011 – Selective Denial, Cover-up by Barbados Commissioner of Police
November 13, 2010 – Boscobel Shooting: Residents in fear as Barbados Police fail to respond