( Real News Antigua ) The trespassing case against almost two dozen Barbudans was dismissed for want of prosecution, this morning, September 29, after witnesses failed to show up to the District C Magistrates Court in Barbuda.
In spite of the Police having investigated, arrested and charged 22 sister-islanders, including Barbuda Council members and workers, REAL News learned that no police witness showed up for the case; nor did anyone from the Peace, Love and Happiness (PLH) development.
Our Newsroom was also told that the Police prosecutor personally informed the investigator that the case was coming up this week. However, it is alleged that he said he is on vacation and, therefore, would not be present.
Reportedly, the investigator was also absent on the last occasion the matter was called, which is what prompted the prosecutor to inform him.
Meanwhile, all the accused persons were present for the matter, except one who is reportedly ill.
The presiding officer, Chief Magistrate Joanne Walsh, bemoaned the fact that the matter has been listed on the court docket since November 30, 2020.
The Barbuda court sits every three months, and a source says this would have given the Police ample time to get the case ready for hearing. However, it has dragged on for almost two years, disrupting the lives of the accused, the source says.
The source adds that there is no excuse for the investigator not showing up for the case, whether he is on vacation or otherwise. Had he been out of the country, the person says, then some consideration could be given.
However, his absence is a clear demonstration that he has no interest in the matter, and the court did the right thing, the source concludes.
A bench warrant was issued on Tuesday, September 27, for a number of the accused who had failed to show up for the trespassing case. But the Court had no opportuntiy to address that matter since the substantive case was dismissed at the get-go.
Two Barbuda Council members were among those arrested and charged in September 2020, allegedly for trespassing on the worksite of the Peace, Love and Happiness (PLH) development.
Devon Warner, the Councilman in charge of agriculture, was charged for resisting arrest and trespassing, while Secretary to the Barbuda Council Paul Nedd faced charges of obstruction, trespassing and disorderly conduct.
Both were also charged for breaching the country’s COVID-19 face mask protocol.
Meanwhile, Alexander Garvey, a Council worker, was charged for obstruction and resisting arrest.
However, REAL News was told that only two charges were before the Court – trespassing and obstruction – and only one woman was facing both charges.
Attorney-at-law Leon Chaku Symister represented the accused.
In relation to the PLH’s controversial development and the Barbudans’ attempt to view the work taking place, two groups – the Global Legal Action Network and the Front Line Defenders – issued a press statement this week.
It expresses concern over the repeated targeting of Barbudans, whom they describe as “human rights defenders” for continuing to resist the project.
Barbudans have complained of harassment, intimidation, defamation, and criminalization – including threats from Prime Minister Gaston Browne, who called them “economic terrorists” who wanted to “block investment … and keep our people unemployed.”
At the time of the confrontation in 2020, Browne angrily declared that Barbudans would “have to face the full extent of the law for any infractions whatsoever.”
After the sister-islanders mounted a protest against PLH, Browne told the media: “Anytime they do anything illegal over there, I am sending the Police and Army… . I rather fight them and resign than to turn a blind eye.”
It was two months after these threats (in September 2020) that the Council members and other villagers were arrested and charged for trespassing.
The multi-billion-dollar PLH development commenced in 2018, amid protests that it was destroying natural resources, including the Barbuda Lagoon.