Soldiers comb D’Urban Backlands in hunt for prison escapees

GDF ranks got into action combing through the D’Urban Backlands area

Joint Services ranks conducted a military operation in the D’Urban Backlands area in Georgetown on Sunday afternoon, as they continue to hunt for the five Camp Street Prison escapees who fled the penitentiary following a fire last week.

The search was reportedly prompted after information surfaced that wanted men Cobena “OJ” Stephens and Cornelius Thomas were suspected to be hiding out in the area.

Residents of the backlands were on edge as the Joint Services ranks swooped through several sections of the community.

As the law enforcement operation ensued, a few armed ranks were stationed outside the family home of President David Granger as other ranks who were not taking any chances conducted a search of the premises to ensure that no trespasser was present there. All the while, a GDF helicopter was making the rounds, circling the D’Urban Backlands area before it returned to Camp Ayanganna around 13:30hrs.

Additionally, the ranks hopped into several pick-up trucks and raced through Mandela Avenue, before turning east into Joseph Pollydore Street (the lower end of D’Urban Street) before combing two premises in the Lodge area. Shortly afterwards, soldiers ended the operations there and accelerated through D’Urban Street.

Sunday’s exercise follows the successful recapture of 27-year-old Desmond James, a gold miner who was charged in 2014 for allegedly killing Glendon Cox on September 1, 2014, at Four Miles Arakaka Backdam, North West District (NWD).

Re-captured: Desmond James

The accused was remanded at Camp Street Prison for the crime, but escaped following Sunday afternoon’s fire, which was said to be the brainchild of convicted Bartica Massacre gang member Mark Royden Durant, called “Smallie”, also known as Royden Williams. James was nabbed by D Division (West Demerara) Police in an abandoned shack in an access dam at Canal Number One late Friday evening.

At the time of his recapture, the escapee was found in possession of a knife and a few pieces of clothing. He had told investigators that he was heading to Essequibo. From reports received, the man had a haircut with the intention of disguising himself.

In February 2017, “Smallie”, along with accomplice Dennis “Anaconda” Williams, was sentenced to death for the February 12, 2008 massacre at Bartica during which 12 people, including three Policemen, were slaughtered as gunman created mayhem in that community.

Durant; ex-cop Uree Varswyck, also known as Malcolm Gordon; and Stafrei Hopkinson Alexander were reportedly hiding out in the East Coast Demerara backlands. Varswyck was implicated in a robbery-murder at Sterling Products Limited. Alexander was accused of being involved in the April 2015 shooting to death of One Mile, Linden businesswoman Shevon Gordon, who was killed near her home.

Alexander is not a first-time prison escapee. In December 2015, he, along with an accomplice, smashed through a concrete wall to gain their freedom while being held at the Mackenzie Police Station.

Meanwhile, double murder accused Shamedeen Mohamed, charged with killing two pensioners, was found disguised in women’s clothing at his Tuschen, East Bank Essequibo residence last Monday night. Police had, however, claimed that he was not one of the listed escapees despite earlier reports suggesting that he had jumped off the truck while being transferred from the razed Camp Street penitentiary.

During last Sunday’s jailbreak and fire, which flattened the Camp Street facility, several prison officers were attacked and injured by inmates. One officer, 33-year-old Odinga Wickham, succumbed to multiple gunshot wounds.


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