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I’m sorry

By Denise Balgobin Sunday, March 9 2008

click on pic to zoom in
GALE'S DAD: Gale Ann Benson's father, Tory MP Captain Leonard Plugge....
GALE'S DAD: Gale Ann Benson's father, Tory MP Captain Leonard Plugge....

Last weekend the movie, The Bank Job, starring Jason Statham was released in London. It tells the story of car dealer Terry who has a dodgy past and new family, and is lured back into the underworld by Martine, a beautiful model from his past.

The movie’s plot centres around secrets that span London’s criminal underworld, the highest echelons of the British government, and the Royal Family itself. The late Princess Margaret is featured as a party girl who had sexually explicit photos of her taken on a Caribbean island, presumed to be Mustique. Those photos were believed to be in a London bank vault and maybe even in the hands of Abdul Malik, in Trinidad.

It is partially based on the lives of persons associated with the Black Power Movement in the 1960s in England.

The movie’s release has prompted several recent newspaper articles about the infamous 1972 murder of British socialite Gale Ann Benson, daughter of Tory MP Captain Leonard Plugge.

Benson was killed in Trinidad by members of a commune led by Black Power leader “Michael X,” aka Abdul Malik, born Michael de Freitas in Trinidad to a Portuguese shopkeeper and a Barbadian mother.

In the 1960s, as Michael X, he was the founder of the Black Power Movement in the UK, fighting for the rights of black people, with support from celebrities including John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

Edward Chadee, one of the men who went to jail for the crime, received a Presidential pardon on Independence Day 1987, and now lives in Port-of-Spain. He came to Sunday Newsday following a story which indicated that a movie about Gale Ann Benson had been released. Chadee said he was seeking forgiveness from Benson’s last living relative, her brother Frank Plugge, now 71.

Chadee was reduced to tears as he made his apology. “I would like to tell him (Frank) that I am very sorry. I was in a position where I feared for my own life and I could not have done anything to avoid what happened to her. “I know what they did was wrong, but I could not stop it. My hands and my conscience are clean. It was never my desire or intention to ever harm or kill any other human being.”

Though the movie tells of Gale’s death as a result of her being a spy for the MI6, whose cover was blown, Chadee, 65, claimed he never got the impression she was a spy.

In relating his experiences with “Michael X” and his henchmen, Chadee said he was “just in the wrong place at the wrong time”. He believes a lot of youths today are becoming involved in crime for this same reason, and said he would like to be able to share his experiences with them, in an effort to steer them on the right path.

Back in 1971, he said he met Abdul Malik by chance one day. “My sister who lived in Antigua at the time came here to buy horses, so we went to a nearby farm in Arima behind the race track with a family friend, who was a private investigator then.”

While there, Chadee, a Renault car salesman, was approached by Malik, who told him he was interested in acquiring some cars on behalf of the famous Beatle — John Lennon — who wanted to open a recording studio in TT and needed suitable means of transportation.

“I later learned that Malik used to visit that farm frequently and even drank calf’s blood there. He also tried to get his followers to do the same.”

That was early December 1971 and Chadee later described Malik as a “cold” customer in his report book at work, since there was no definite commitment to buy a car.

He said Malik called him several times over the next few days and finally visited him one day, along with Stanley Abbott. They invited him to come on a moonlight picnic with them to Manzanilla Beach. It was there Chadee met more of Malik’s acquaintances.

On December 31, Chadee had a disagreement with his girlfriend over what they should do – she wanted to go to a party, but he being a devout Catholic wanted to follow family tradition and attend church, then eat black eyed peas. He was still upset the next day (January 1, 1972), so he didn’t call her and decided to spend the day at the beach, according to his recollection.

On his way, he decided to drop in at Christina Gardens to wish Malik a Happy New Year.

There he met Gale and her lover Hakim Jamal, along with Malik’s wife Desiree and their children, Adolphus Parmasar and Steve Yeates. Gale offered him coffee and breakfast and they all chatted for a while.

Then Abbott asked Chadee to take him to Chaguanas to visit his mother, who was hosting a New Year’s Day party for some children. On their way back to Arima, Chadee said Abbott asked him if he had ever killed anyone, to which he replied “no.”

At Christina Gardens, Malik instructed them to bring the car inside the compound when they returned. By then, the farm owner was there with his wife and children.

Not long after, Malik invited the men to the annex at the back of the house to chat, while the women stayed in front. Chadee said Gale, also called “Hale Kinga,” was also at the back washing clothes.

He said Malik stated in a low voice, “She is causing Hakim some mental strain, so we have to get rid of her.”

To this he said Abbott replied, “Give her a plane ticket back to London.”

But Malik stated: “We want blood.”

Chadee said he was stunned not just by the words, but also the sneering expression on Malik’s face, as what he was describing became clear.

Malik then outlined his plan for her death the next day, by which time Chadee said he was already trying to figure out how to get away and head home, but he felt drawn in and somewhat terrified of what Malik might tell him.

That night, they were all (including Chadee) assigned to stay in by Malik, and bunked with an unsuspecting Hakim and Gale.

Chadee said he hardly slept a wink, as he kept replaying the conversation in his mind. Malik instructed Abbott that he should stab her under her left breast close to her heart, recalled Chadee.

Early the next day (at about 6 am on January 2), Abbott awoke Chadee, Yeates, Marvin Dean (aka Kidojo) and Parmasar, who collected the tools and went to dig Gale’s grave. A few minutes later, Malik drove up and spoke to Abbott for a while before leaving to pick up Hakim and take him to the farm.

By this time, Yeates also left to lure Gale to the site. When he returned with her, the hole was about four feet deep by then, according to Chadee who told Sunday Newsday he did not help dig, but stood close to his car watching.

Abbott invited Gale to look at the hole and Chadee heard him tell her, “It’s for us to put fresh matter to decompose.”

He said Gale was indifferent since she knew these men. “She wasn’t scared because she couldn’t know what they were planning,” Chadee said.

He continued that Kidojo then came up behind Gale, as Abbott told her, “It’s for you,” before jumping into the hole holding firmly onto her.

“Kidojo also jumped in and started stabbing her,” Chadee said.

By then, Gale was screaming and asking what she had done to deserve this, while trying to fight off her two assailants.

She was strong Chadee said. Abbott then reportedly called out to him, Parmasar and Yeates for help to finish her off, but they were hesitant. Yeates, he said, finally jumped into the hole with a cutlass, chopping Gale as he went down. He then pushed her to the ground, put his foot on her chest and pulled out the cutlass, Chadee remembered.

“She was stabbed around ten times, then chopped and buried alive,” he said, getting a little emotional.

He and Yeates then carried on with Malik’s instructions and went to the farm to collect manure to cover the grave, while Parmasar, Abbott and Dean stood guard.

When they returned to the house, Chadee said the phone kept ringing but Malik’s wife Desiree, refused to answer. He finally picked up the receiver. “It was Malik. When he asked me if everything was okay, I just answered yes, even though I wasn’t sure if by his question he wanted to know if Gale was dead or not.”

Not long after this, Chadee said they quickly gathered all Gale’s belongings, including her clothes, jewelry and passport and placed it in a grip (suitcase).

“We stopped on the way to Heights of Guanapo to buy kerosene. I remember it was close to a river where we burned the clothes and buried everything else.”

While they were still at the site, Malik arrived with Desiree and their children and they all sat around the bonfire eating sweetbread she had made, Chadee related.

Later at Christina Gardens, Chadee saw an opportunity to leave, telling Malik he had to go home to collect clothes to go to work the next day. He was in his car alone with the intention of finally getting away, when Yeates arrived. “I felt like a tonne of bricks had crashed on me when Malik told me Yeates would accompany me.”

When he came back, Malik said to him, “Junior (he used to call me that), you are one of us now. You are a member for life and you cannot resign.”

Chadee said many things were on his mind. “I wondered if that was my initiation without my consent. I was also concerned about collecting my salary and commission for the month of December.”

When he told Malik about the latter, he was sent with Yeates and Hakim for it. Later, the money would be used to purchase groceries and other items Malik wanted.

During the next few days, Chadee remembered many people visiting the house but the “members” could not leave or give any hint of what had taken place.

With Carnival approaching in the next few weeks, Malik and crew wanted money to party and attend calypso tents.

They plotted to rob businesswoman Adella Moses, reported at the time to be in possession of a substantial amount of US currency, which she got from changing money for members of the public.

A plan was hatched on how to carry out this robbery for J’ouvert morning at Moses’ French Street, Woodbrook home, where she kept the money in a vault under her bed.

However, when it was announced that Carnival 1972 was postponed to May due to a breakout of the polio myelitis disease Malik then changed his plan and decided to send in Desiree and Yeates instead. They were to pretend to be researchers from the University of the West Indies carrying out a survey on polio. The others were to disguise as policemen to make a raid and impound the illegal stash.

Chadee (who used to spent a lot of time tending to the vegetable garden) said they were to raid the Cunupia Police Station to steal police uniforms, since this was a remote station with easy access to get away.

Abbott, Parmasar, barber Joseph Skerritt and one Sam Brown were dispatched to the police station but returned not long after. After Skerritt fell asleep, Abbott reported that they had come back empty-handed because Skerritt didn’t want to rob the station.

Malik, who often carried a gun, was furious and warned Abbott that Skerritt could not be trusted to keep their secrets.

The next morning, Malik sent Chadee with Skerritt to collect large boulders for a soak-away they were constructing.

“When we came back, Malik sent me to the farm with his stepbrother Arthur Fonrose to collect manure. Later Malik, Abbott and Joe were out by an open hole when Malik told Abbott he was ready,” Chadee stated.

That was February 8, 1972. Malik went in the hole with a cutlass in his hand, while Abbott grabbed Joe and pushed him in. Malik grabbed onto Joe’s “afro” hairstyle and chopped Joe, who screamed he would tell on them. His head was twisted from the chop and he was clawing on the side of the hole, saying, “ah go tell, ah go tell.” Then Abbott grabbed the cutlass and slashed his throat while telling him this was for (name witheld), a woman Joe had raped who Abbott later became involved with.

After they finished him off (hitting him with a rock on his head) they covered up the hole.

A few days later, the group (including the women and children) went to Sans Souci beach to bathe. The water was rough and Parmasar shouted that the children were drowning.

Chadee said Yeates and a few other people on the beach swam in to help and managed to get most of the people out. Yeates was unlucky and lost his life trying to save a young woman.

Chadee took the woman to the Sangre Grande hospital and returned to the house, where Malik ordered him immediately to go and bring her to Christina Gardens, where she wouldn’t be able to tell anyone anything about them.

Meanwhile, he said Desiree and Brown were going to a newspaper to give the story about Yeates drowning, when Brown advised us to leave.

By this time, Chadee said he and Parmasar had had enough and so packed their things to leave. “I sent Parmasar off first because he was afraid of Abbott. I then told Abbott of my plan to leave and he warned me that if he showed up at my house with Malik, I should know what was coming, so be warned.”

Chadee said before he left, Abbott hid cutlasses in different areas around the commune, in preparation for facing Malik and telling him the two had left.

Around that time, Malik was also facing pressure from the owner of the house for not paying his rent. The woman eventually served him with an eviction notice but he was determined to be the victor – either she sold him the house or nobody would get it.

After she refused to allow him time to come up with the rent payment, Malik fled to Desiree’s homeland of Guyana, but not before instructing his henchmen to douse the house with gasoline and burn it to the ground. They made two trips to gas stations for fuel which they siphoned from the car. The only thing they were to save were a piano and guitar gifted to him by John Lennon before he left England.

Chadee remembered hearing about the fire and police swarming the property. He was also told that he was wanted in connection with his dealings with Malik, so together with a family friend, he turned himself in to then Assistant Police Commissioner Kenneth Duff.

“I told him everything and described in detail where the two graves were.”

Chadee said he told the family friend about a third body he believed to be on the compound, that of Englishman Michael Juchin, who he doesn’t think was ever accounted for. He believes that Juchin’s body is still buried somewhere in Christina Gardens. However, he didn’t tell the police about this, and he is now talking about it for the first time.

Chadee didn’t see the outside world again for the next 15 years. He was imprisoned on February 29, 1972, sentenced to death on July 16, 1973, had his sentence commuted to life on March 11, 1977 and then received a Presidential pardon on August 31, 1987.

Malik was found in Guyana and convicted of Skerritt’s murder. He was hung in May 1975, along with Stanley Abbott (for Gale’s murder). Jamal was shot dead in 1973 in Boston.

Chadee said when he was first released, his life was unsettled, as the media hounded him relentlessly. He kept moving from place to place. He stayed for a while in a village in the East, where most people didn’t recognise him.

He has been shunned by everyone who knew him before, except for his immediate family. One man even wanted him to kill his spouse, but Chadee refused. “I told him no thanks.”

Today, he still doesn’t feel settled. “I am in contact with my sisters, two in Florida and one in Canada, and they help me financially. I can’t keep a job because as soon as people realise who I am, they don’t want me around,” he lamented.

The story of the movie prompted him to finally come forward some 36 years later, though he said the incidents of 1972 are never far from his mind.

He said he has asked God for forgiveness and believes it is by the grace of God he is still alive today to tell his tale.

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