Former Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington on Tuesday testified that the police were informed that an aircraft loaded with high-powered weapons and ammunition was flown into the now defunct Vernamfield Air Strip in Clarendon to assist gunmen in their resistance in efforts to arrest Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke.
Ellington was responding to questions from attorney representing the Jamaica Defence Force Peter Champagnie during the Tivoli Commission of Enquiry at the Jamaica Conference Centre in downtown, Kingston.
“Yes we were given that information,” Ellington said.
He also confirmed that the police had been given information that heavily armed men had taken to the high seas and were approaching Tivoli Gardens from the direction of the Portmore Toll Plaza, Others, he said, were in boats approaching the community from the direction of Port Royal.
“Were those members of the constabulary force?” Champagnie asked.
“Not to the best of my knowledge,” Ellington replied.
He also testified that the police had evidence that men were dressed in black police denim, army fatigues, bullet-proof vests who were packing sandbags and placing large weapons behind them.
OWEN Ellington yesterday said Jamaica was fortunate that the security forces responded in May 2010 to the threat posed by gunmen associated with then Tivoli Gardens don Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke. At the same time, he expressed deep disappointment with the level of social intervention in Tivoli Gardens following the security forces’ operation to arrest Coke.
Ellington, the former police commissioner, made the remarks while being questioned by Professor Anthony Harriott, a member of the panel of three commissioners looking into the operation by the security forces in May 2010 to apprehend Coke — who also goes by the name Omar Clarke — and restore law and order to the West Kingston area and sections of the Corporate Area and St Catherine.
“Jamaica is fortunate that the security forces responded to the threat as quickly as they did and with the impact it had,” Ellington said, adding at one point that “it would be anybody’s guess where Coke’s office would be today” if his Presidential Click criminal gang was successful in its bid to spread the resources of the security forces thin, and broke its will with its planned co-ordinated attacks.
Ellington likened the gang to “insurgents” and said that it presented itself as a “surrogate government”, which sought to expand its power and “perhaps political influence”. He also said that the gang threatened the operation of the Government with its targeted attacks leading up to the May 24, 2010 operation that led to the death of just over 70 civilians. A member of the Jamaica Defence Force was killed in the operation and several other members of the security forces injured.
“We were left with no choice,” Ellington said, noting that the police did everything they could to avoid a violent confrontation with the gang, and again expressed regret at the loss of civilian lives.
Coke is now serving time in the United States following his extradition.
Yesterday, Ellington said he was disappointed with the social intervention in the community. “I am very, very disappointed that not much has happened, save and except for the work of the security forces. If you go there you will see that the police and soldiers have become permanent fixtures and you will see the work they are doing on the ground,” he said.
“If we had followed with improved political leadership and better economic opportunity for the citizenship we would not be here contemplating the future of Tivoli Gardens and other marginalised communities across Jamaica,” he said in response to questions from Harriott.
Questioned by Peter Champagnie, one of the attorneys for the Jamaica Defence Force, Ellington said “all the elements were there” to make the circumstances surrounding the efforts by criminals to prevent the apprehension of Coke a war against the State. He said that, in his 30-plus years in the force, he had never seen anything like it.
The former top cop added that he described the situation to the Government as a “challenge to the sovereignty” of the State.
He testified also that the police got intelligence that an aeroplane with illegal weapons landed at the airstrip in Vernamfield, Clarendon, days before the operation to apprehend Christopher Coke commenced.
The former top cop said he had not immediately been made aware of the report of the illegal shipment.
He testified also that it had been reported by police, who were by the Kingston Harbour, that 15 row boats with heavily armed men were heading toward Portmore in St Catherine.
He is to face continued questioning today.