Special Branch ‘short-changed’
Thursday, February 7 2013
DESPITE having vital information of a possible vicious attack on the then National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) government, by the Jamaat al Muslimeen months before the sect attempted a coup, the hierarchy of the security services failed to share the information with key agencies including the Special Branch.
Retired Inspector Dave Pilgrim, a Special Branch officer who was part of former Prime Minister Arthur NR Robinson’s security detail, agreed that his seniors in the Police Service including then Police Commissioner Jules Bernard (now deceased) had information relating to the Muslimeen but failed to inform them of a possible threat.
Pilgrim also agreed with Sir David Simmons, chairman of the July 1990 Commission of Enquiry, that Special Branch officers were “shortchanged” by their seniors. The former Special Branch officer testified yesterday the Commission of Enquiry investigating circumstances surrounding the July 27, 1990, attempted coup.
He was one of the officers who guarded the prime minister and was in the Red House when the Muslimeen stormed the Parliament chamber. He was bound with plastic ties, but later allowed to leave, unharmed.
Pilgrim, in his testimony, said they were never alerted to a heightened security situation, even though Bernard, three months before the attempted coup, swore to an affidavit in which he spoke of the police being in receipt of information of criminal activities taking place on the Muslimeen’s Mucurapo compound.
Bernard also spoke of a police raid in which guns were recovered and a man wanted by the police for murder being arrested at the Jamaat’s compound. Questioned by attorney Avory Sinanan, SC, lead counsel to the commission, Pilgrim said he was not aware that senior Special Branch officers came to the consensus that the Jamaat al Muslimeen was a threat to the then NAR government. According to him, officers in Special Branch discussed the Muslimeen but were given no specific orders or information from their seniors.
He said while he and his colleagues often discussed the security arrangements for the PM amongst themselves and made recommendations, he could not say if the information “percolated up” to senior officers.
Pilgrim was part of Robinson’s security detail as well as former Prime Minister Patrick Manning up to 1995. He retired from the Police Service in 2009. He said while in the Parliament chamber, after the insurgents stormed the Red House, he chose not to use his weapon, as he and his colleagues Sgt Maurice and acting Sgt Charles, realised they were outnumbered.
“Good sense prevailed,” he said, adding that had they engaged the terrorist, the outcome would have been disastrous and could have led to Robinson or other parliamentarians being injured. He said the automatic rifles and handguns used by the Muslimeen were not the same used by the police. Pilgrim said he saw some improvements in the security arrangements in and around the Parliament following the insurgency, but said it was sporadic changes which were not consistent.
He has advocated the need to have a full complement of bodyguards with the prime minister and members of Cabinet at all times.