Paradise Lost

A spate of savage killings has shocked Jamaica. The 29 victims are all elderly, returning from Britain and America to the rural idylls they remember from their childhoods. But times have changed and they're not welcome anymore...
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The Independent Culture
They found Alfred Morris lying dead in a pool of blood on the lawn of his mansion. The fingers of his left hand were defiantly clasped around the keys to his English-made Ford Sierra. The one-time Birmingham shopkeeper had been beaten around the head with a blunt instrument and stabbed three times in the stomach. Pathologists who examined his body believe he clung to life for some time after his attackers had abandoned the scene. But there was no one to hear his cries for help.

Mr Morris, who died last October at the age of 70, became one of the many victims of ruthless gangs preying on the elderly "foreigners" who retire to Jamaica anticipating that their savings will allow them to live their last years in grand style in the warmth of the Caribbean sun. Instead they have provided easy pickings for bandits stalking the Jamaican countryside.

Although he never felt completely at home in the industrialised West Midlands, Mr Morris was well-known and highly popular among Caribbean immigrants of his own generation, many of whom he had sheltered when they first arrived in the area from the West Indies.

He had moved to Britain at the age of 21 and, after giving up a labouring job in a cable factory, he drew on his Caribbean upbringing to set up in business selling yams, green bananas and dasheens from the back of his motorcycle. He progressed to a mobile shop before setting up a Caribbean food store that was to become a focal point for his community but was equally popular with Asian customers in the inner-city Birmingham district of Balsall Heath. Though he was an astute and successful businessman, Mr Morris won the gratitude of his poorer clientele by his willingness to offer food "on the knock".

When he arrived back in Jamaica, he set up home in the coastal district of St Ann's, near the white sandy beaches where Christopher Columbus came on shore when he arrived on the island in 1494. But the quiet seaside village that he had known as a boy had changed dramatically. Now St Ann's was a bustling town that drew people from far and wide, anxious to make money from the new tourist trade.

The friends and relatives whom Mr Morris had known as a child were now long gone, and the environment was much more hostile. While he built his dream home on the edge of the lush Jamaican interior he cultivated vegetables and tried to recreate the relationships he had enjoyed in Birmingham by giving produce to local families.

A week before Mr Morris's murder, the decomposed body of Vincent "Pie" Palmer was discovered on his farm in the rural parish of St Thomas. Mr Palmer, 68, who had recently returned to Jamaica from London, was shot once in his abdomen and three times in the back. His killers have not been traced. Then on 4 January, Nigel Johnson, a Londoner who was staying with relatives in the parish of St Catherine, was shot dead by gunmen who burst into the house shortly after two o'clock in the morning. The 36-year-old, the youngest "returnee" to die, was robbed of pounds 700 in cash and jewellery. Again, the killers have not been caught. Mr Johnson was the ninth returnee to die since the beginning of last year.

In November, a 58-year-old man from Tottenham, north London, who had set up a business in the central Jamaican town of May Pen, Clarendon, was chopped to death with machetes after intruders broke into his house in nearby Mandeville. His killers, too, are still at large.

Two days before Christmas, a minibus ferrying six returnees from the United States betweenNorman Manley Airport in Kingston and their hotel was hijacked by 10 men carrying high-powered rifles. They were subjected to a terrifying ordeal before being robbed of about pounds 10,000.

Meanwhile, relatives of Robert "Scottie" Graham and his sister Icylyn, two Londoners who went missing on 27 November 1997, have put up more than pounds 15,000 as a reward for information of their whereabouts. The couple, who were living in the capital, Kingston, have not been seen since they went to meet a prospective buyer for a van they had advertised for sale. The vehicle was found abandoned in sugar-cane fields near the Caymanas Park racecourse, and the Grahams are feared to be dead.

It is a disturbing pattern that is causing great concern to the Jamaican authorities. In the past six years, 29 people who left Jamaica to make a life for themselves in England and the Americas have been brutally murdered on retiring here. At the beginning of this year the senate, Jamaica's upper house of parliament, passed a resolution calling on the government to provide better advice to returnees on investment opportunities and personal security.

Most of the victims have been British or American. In almost all cases they had been born in Jamaica and were realising dreams of returning home to what they nostalgically remembered as an island paradise of rural peace and clear blue skies. But the village life that they had abandoned 40 years or more ago has changed beyond recognition.

By choosing to return to the villages of their childhood they eschew the high security and armed guards which patrol the homes of the Jamaican elite in uptown Kingston. And with few friends and relatives in an environment which they left two generations earlier, they are isolated and vulnerable.

Many of the 40,000 people who have returned to Jamaica over the past five years are pensioners who still receive benefits from England and contribute about pounds 15m to the island's economy each year. Most are from the group of people who came to England in the Fifties and Sixties, on board or following the SS Empire Windrush, to work mainly on the buses, in hospitals and in factories. Others are returning from Canada and the US. Of the 29 returnee murders in Jamaica over the past six years, nine have been committed since the beginning of last year.

Percy LaTouche, founder of the Association for the Resettlement of Returning Residents, strongly believes that returnees are being targeted. A returnee himself, who used to live in Birmingham, he says: "I don't know if it is because they have big houses or they talk too much about what they have, but they are definitely being singled out.

"I am not saying people can't have big houses and expensive cars, but when you have these things people get jealous, especially in a place like Jamaica, which has high levels of poverty. Some returnees give themselves away. They are making themselves enticing to criminals."

Luke Douglas, the municipal reporter on the Jamaican Gleaner newspaper, says returnees would be best advised to move into affluent areas where they can get better protection, rather than live in the rural communities where they originally came from. "The fact that you are a returnee means that you would not know many people, so there are no gunmen or police to protect you and the criminals see you as an easy target. It is very sad," he says.

Such advice comes too late for Alfred Morris, and back in Birmingham his relatives are left to grieve for the gentle man they knew as "Sabboo". His former wife, Dorothy Morris, 56, says: "Sabboo has never done anything to anyone. He was actively involved with the community. When he returned from the fields, he used to call the kids and give them food. How can they kill the goose that laid the golden egg?"

She recalled a man who came to Britain in 1950 with a sense of hope and adventure, setting up a shop in Birmingham which sold Caribbean produce to a clientele which came from as far afield as Cardiff and Manchester. So successful was he that he amassed sufficient savings to buy a piece of land in Jamaica, close to the sandy beaches of St Ann's where he used to play as a child. He built a seven-bedroom English-style house that was to prove his undoing.

To his brother, Caral, his death was a shock but hardly a surprise. Caral, 68, had himself retired to Jamaica only to return to England four years ago after a frightening attack that nearly cost the life of his young son. While he was out, three gunmen burst into his house in the coastal town of Ocho Rios, tied up his half-naked wife and threw his then two- year-old son Charick, now six, against a wall to stop him crying. The boy's skull was split, leaving him with head injuries from which he has still not recovered.

"As smart as my brother was," says Caral, "he underestimated the Jamaica he left behind. The aggression that we face out there is unbelievable. They are more likely to kill you if you are a returnee than if you are a local. If they go to rob a bank, they will only kill if it is necessary, but with us they don't care. They could have robbed my brother and not killed him. In Jamaica they don't need any excuse to take your life."