OVER 40 GUNS STOLEN FROM FORENSICS
By Nalinee Seelal Monday, August 11 2014
Over 40 high-powered calibre guns sent to the Forensic Science Centre by police officers for ballistic testing have gone missing and a report has been provided to Acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams leading to a sensitive probe into how the weapons have disappeared.
Newsday understands that the guns went missing between 2013 and July of this year.
The disappearance of the weapons was first reported to Arlette Lewis, Director at the Forensic Science Centre by Derek Sankar, the person who is in charge of the ballistic room at the Second Floor of the Forensic Science Centre.
However, it was not until a few weeks ago that Lewis reported the matter to the police based on information provided to her by Sankar.
According to well-placed sources, the head of the Port-of-Spain CID Oswald Cudjoe was mandated to carry out the probe into the disappearance of the guns.
A team is yet to be put together to assist in ascertaining exactly who is responsible for the guns’ disappearance. The team is expected to be formed by today.
Sources also revealed that three employees of the Forensic Science Centre are now being targeted by police as being the main suspects in the disappearance of the weapons and police believe that the guns are being sold to criminal elements for hefty sums of money.
The homes of those employees are expected to be searched and the employees quizzed. Some of the weapons have been identified as revolvers, pistols and “heavy arms.”
Sources revealed that with the disappearance of the guns a number of cases could be affected in court because of a lack of ballistic evidence to assist police officers in presenting their cases.
Some of the weapons stolen were those seized from murder scenes, those seized in raids and weapons handed over to the police by members of the public who required certain tests to be carried out.
Newsday understands that there are five ballistic experts based at the Forensic Science Centre who work under Sankar’s supervision.
Yesterday, Acting Police Commissioner Williams when contacted said, “I have no comment on that matter at this point of time.”
Also contacted yesterday, Deputy Director of the FSC Emmanuel Walker said that he was not aware of the disappearance of the guns and neither was he informed by the Director Arlette Lewis about the incident.
Newsday attempted to reach the Director of the FSC Arlette Lewis on Friday but was told that she was in a meeting and would contact Newsday when her meeting had been completed.
However, Lewis did not return any calls to Newsday.
Minister of Justice Emmanuel George, who is the line Minister responsible for the Forensic Science Centre, when contacted by Newsday, said, “It’s the first time I am hearing of this. I was not informed but let me check to verify this information.”
Newsday then contacted the minister a second time. He said he was still in the process of getting information to ascertain if this report was true or not.
Sources, however, revealed this is not the first time that guns and drugs sent to the FSC for testing have gone missing but it is the first time that such a large cache of arms are not accounted for.
Several years ago, an employee who worked at the mortuary room assisting in the pathology department was arrested and charged for stealing drugs from the FSC.
Sources also revealed there are surveillance cameras located at the mortuary room and at the police booth making it difficult for persons who are not employees to remove items without being detected. Due to this, investigators believe that the theft of the guns was an inside job and the weapons were carted out by persons who use clever means of doing so without being detected.
Newsday understands that even if the stolen weapons were recovered they cannot be used as evidence in court, in any existing matters, and therefore several cases involving criminal element could be dismissed from both the magistrate and high courts .
Police sources told Newsday it takes years to secure ballistic reports from the FSC and they are now wondering if the theft of the guns is responsible for them not gaining access to those reports to assist them when they present their cases in court.
According to well-placed sources the police team who will be probing this theft will be assisted by other law enforcement agencies in a bid to ascertain exactly who stole the guns and who are now in possession of these weapons.
According to sources, some of the guns which have gone missing are those involving high profile court matters and due to this a decision was taken to keep this probe as quiet as possible until a breakthrough is made.
Police sources also revealed yesterday that investigators will seize all records at the ballistic room including diaries where entries were logged when guns were brought to the FSC. Officers will also interview police officers on duty at the FSC as well as employees and review surveillance cameras at the Centre.
Newsday also contacted Minister of National Security Gary Griffith on the matter, but he is out of the country and is expected back on Wednesday. He referred Newsday to the Ag Minister of National Security Clifton De Coteau, however De Coteau could not be reached for comment on the matter.
Also yesterday President of the police social and welfare Association Inspector Anand Ramesar said, “The occurrence of this unfortunate event is very disastrous for the police service and the judicial system who has placed a lot of credibility and reliance on the service provided by the Forensic Science Center, the absence of firearms is curious and has the potential to destroy the hard work of many police officers.”
Newsday understands that an audit is also to be carried out at the Forensic Science Centre in the aftermath of this report into the guns’ disappearance.