Jamaica to hang dozens of convicts

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The Independent Online
A SECOND Caribbean country is to begin executing 50 death row inmates following the hangings of the "Trinidad nine" a fortnight ago.

Jamaica's decision to hang the convicts will lead to protests from the Labour MP Gerald Kaufman during a special debate in the Commons tomorrow. The former shadow foreign secretary will call for the end of UK aid to all Caribbean countries which still impose the death penalty.

In Jamaica, Neville Lewis, who was convicted of murder in 1994, will be the first man to be hanged since 1988.

British lawyers representing him and his co-defendant, Peter Blaine, say they could be hanged within the next six months unless the Jamaican government commutes their sentences.

But 10 days ago Percival Patterson, the Jamaican Prime Minister, said during a visit to Canada that the "Trinidad nine" had set an important precedent.

It is understood that the Jamaican administration is keen to follow the lead set by its Caribbean neighbour.

Mr Kaufman's debate follows four failed attempts by the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, to dissuade the Trinidad and Tobago government from carrying out the executions of Dole Chadee and his gang, who were hanged earlier this month.

While the Trinidad nine were all part of a notorious gang dealing in drugs and murder, Lewis and Blaine have no previous convictions and claim they were set up by the police.

Karen Aston, of the London law firm Allen & Overy, which is acting for Blaine, said the men were told that if they signed statements that blamed each other for the robbery of a car and the murder of its owner, they would not be prosecuted.

Both men claim not to know each other. Their appeal against their convictions wasturned down by the UK's Privy Council in 1997.

On Tuesday the Jamaican Court of Appeal dismissed the argument that the conditions in which they were imprisoned breached their human rights. It did, however, rule that the Governor General must wait until the conclusion of their petitions to the Inter American Commission on Human Rights before they may be executed. Jamaica pulled out of the United Nations Human Rights Commission in 1997 in order to stop lawyers representing death row inmates using it to drag out their appeals.

Shelagh Simmons of Caribbean Justice, a UK-based organisation working for the abolition of the death penalty, said the Jamaican government had been spurred on by the Trinidad hangings and was determined to carry out the executions.

Mr Kaufman, who has written in support of another Jamaican death row inmate, Deon McTaggart, said the amount of "developmental assistance" should be used to bring "leverage" against Caribbean countries that retain the death penalty. Mr Kaufman said: "If they are independent countries with independent penal policies then they can do without money from our taxpayers until their human rights are improved."

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said this was not a policy that the Government accepted: "We are not convinced this is the right way forward. It would reinforce the wrong impression that we are picking on smaller countries."