A church plundered as a State watches

The Acting Commissioner of Police James Philbert has given two reasons why the police opted not to secure the site of the church at the Heights of Guanapo which was reportedly being constructed for the use of a woman who former Prime Minister Patrick Manning has called his spiritual adviser.

On the one hand, he said in a press release this week that the contractor for the project, Shanghai Construction Group, had abandoned the site and taken out its equipment and materials because of payment issues. But what is the relevance of this to the property left at the site? Surely the property of the owner of the site, not just the contractor, must be protected by the law.

The other reason Philbert adduced for non-intervention by the police was the issue of ownership of the land. The police did not know the owners and therefore it was unclear whether or not a crime was taking place, he said. For the looters may, in theory, not be looters but persons acting on behalf of the owners at large, clearing the site.

This reason does not stand up to the scrutiny of a rigourous logic. If I am abroad on vacation and a person is spotted by a police officer ripping off the doors of my house and carting them away, would that prevent the police from taking action? Or if I am at home and a bandit is in the process of stealing a television and I call a police officer to the scene, will he need to see my receipt proving I own the television before he can take action?

Philbert’s logic would result in the police not acting in the examples above. In a sense, he is arguing that the police cannot intervene unless they are sure that a crime may be taking place. So because the owners of the church at Guanpo are not known, we cannot assume that the persons carting away steel and materials are “looting”.

But further, is it even right to say that the police can intervene only if they are sure that a crime is being committed? Surely this is not true for several legal and commonsense reasons.

Firstly, Section 35 of the Police Service Act clearly states that police officers have a duty to “apprehend and bring before Justices persons found committing any offence rendering them liable to arrest without warrant, or whom they may reasonably suspect of having committed any such offence”. In other words, an officer needs to have merely a reasonable suspicion that a crime is taking place to intervene in a situation.

Also, not all police officers are lawyers or juries for that matter! Clearly, the police do not need a 100 percent certainty of the commission of a crime before taking basic action. In fact the police are very frequently empowered to investigate issues which may or may not pan out in court or result in a conviction or even charges.

As such, it is a shame that this Police Service, which has a duty to enforce the law, was unable to arrest this situation before $5million in materials and equipment were removed. The failure was a spectacular one in a country beset by crime from the very top right down to the bottom.

Email: abagoo@newsday.co.tt


"A church plundered as a State watches"

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