At yesterday’s hearing of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the deadly Camp Street Prison fire, discrepancies were found in the testimonies of Chief Fire Officer, Marlon Gentle and Commander of A Division (Georgetown-East Bank Demerara) Clifton Hicken.
Gentle, who continued his testimony from Wednesday’s session, posited that based on the reports he would have garnered, a low-order “flash-over” occurred in the building because it was enclosed, and as such, could not have been the only contributory factor to the deaths of two inmates.
“The level of injures which those bodies would have suffered – a head dethatched from a body [and] intestines protruding… I believe that in my experience, both of the bodies would have suffered other types of trauma than the fire, meaning that they were subjected to some level of force being applied to them either by striking or stabbing,” he explained.
Attorney Christopher Ram objected to these statements being tendered on the basis that “only an expert” could make such determinations.
When asked about the Fire Service’s report on the deadly blaze, Gentle stressed that he could not speak to certain aspects of the events as the investigation is still continuing. He also told the Commission that a special unit within the fire service is designated to carry out these investigations. It was revealed that someone by the name of Mr Holder – who is in charge of this investigation – has not yet submitted a statement as confirmed by Commission Counsel Excellence Dazzell.
However, in somewhat of a contrast, Attorney representing the Joint Services, Eusi Anderson reportedly said that he has indeed seen this report.
Under cross-examination, Attorney Glen Hanoman sought to discredit some of the Chief Fire Officer’s statements as he did not actually witness some of the events of which he testified.
“Because you didn’t go in there, your statements are based on reports that you got and not on personal knowledge,” Hanoman pointed out.
Also under cross-examination, Gentle was questioned to disclose his knowledge of tear smoke canisters and whether they are “flammable or pyrotechnic”.
Gentle responded, “Sir, pyrotechnics fall under the terms of an explosive, that’s not my expertise.” However, when later questioned by Commissioners, the Fire Chief then recalled incidents in the 1997 riots and onwards. He noted one such incident where a tear smoke canister was thrown into Citizen’s Bank and fire investigators were called. He added that fire investigators saw the canister but it did not ignite the areas where it had fallen.
“The tear smoke triggered the fire alarms in the Bank… we responded… strangely this device found itself on a soft chair; there was no damage to the chair,” recounted the Fire Chief of the Citizens Bank incident.
Commander Hicken, who took the stand in the afternoon session, exhibited some confusion with his recollection of the dates surrounding the March 2-4 riots. He stumbled several times in sequencing his knowledge of events and at one point said that after 01:00h (1:00 AM) on Thursday, March 3, he was not present on the scene.
Additionally, at one point, he could not recall on which day and at what time the “big fire” claimed the lives of 17 inmates. However, some clarity was brought under re-examination by Attorney Anderson.
When questioned about the implementation of the Standard Operating Procedures by Commissioner Dale Erskine, Commander Hicken opined that the Police exercised too much caution in its approach to the riots and he conceded that there needs to be a revision of the SOPs. He however reiterated that the Prison Directors were the ones in command and as such Police Officers had to exercise restraint.