Trinidad nine lose hanging appeal

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The Independent Online
NINE DEATH-ROW inmates held in Trinidad's infamous Franklin prison will be hanged next week after the Privy Council sitting 3,000 miles away in London dismissed their pleas for mercy yesterday.

The Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago is expected to re-read the men's death warrants today, allowing four clear days before the first three are hanged on Tuesday. The remaining six will be hanged on Wednesday and Thursday.

The gang of nine, led by Dole Chadee, were found guilty in 1996 of the murder of a family of four, dragged from their bedrooms and shot in the head, in Williamsville. They will be the first Trinidadians to be executed since 1994 when Glen Ashby was hanged after being found guilty of murder.

Lord Slynn, the most senior of the five law lords who made up the Privy Council's judicial committee, spent less than a minute in giving the committee's reasons for dismissing the men's appeal.

Arguments had hinged on the legality of hanging as a means of administering the death penalty, but Lord Slynn said that under Trinidad and Tobago's Bill of Rights "hanging was not only a method but the only method" of carrying out such a sentence.

He said: "It has been suggested in this case, but it has not been shown, that hanging has been carried out in a way that could have been less painful for the person being hanged. It has not been shown in the evidence."

The ruling ends a three-year struggle by lawyers in the Caribbean and in London, who gave their services free of charge, to save the men's lives. Shelagh Simmons, co-ordinator of Caribbean Justice, an organisation based in Hampshire that is working for the abolition of the death penalty in the Caribbean, said "only a miracle" could now save the men from the gallows.

The court had been asked to rule that death by hanging is an inhumane form of capital punishment. Edward Fitzgerald QC, representing all nine men, said that hanging amounted to "cruel and unusual" punishment and should be illegal.

He said scientific research showed that death by hanging was not instantaneous. He added that there was no written law stipulating death by hanging as the method of executing a death sentence in Trinidad. "Less painful and more humane" methods such as a lethal injection were available, he told the court.

But Sir Godfray Le Quesne QC, representing the Trinidad and Tobago government, said there was a "statutory authority" to carry out hangings. "Hanging is the regular method and the only method of carrying out a death sentence," he told the court.

The case had become the focus of a culture clash between Caribbean countries' desire to execute murderers and the English courts. Countries such as Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica have huge popular support for the use of the death penalty. Many people resent the Privy Council standing between them and retribution.

David Smythe, who represented all nine men, said he was disappointed, but would carry on his fight for other death-row prisoners in the Caribbean.

The law lords' ruling met widespread approval in Trinidad yesterday. The murders, in January 1994, for which the nine men will be hanged had sent shockwaves through a nation grown wearily accustomed to violent crime.

Many islanders regard the death penalty as the only way to fight the rising tide of drug-related shootings and murders, and that view is mirrored in much of the Caribbean, where people resent being dictated to by their former colonial masters, whom they regard as out of touch with the realities of life in the West Indies.

The nine men were sentenced to death after they smashed their way into a small, two-storey house, looking for Hamilton Baboolal, 26, who - according to local gossip - owed them money for drugs.

They found him and shot him through the head and then, for good measure, shot his mother, Rookmin, 45, and his sister, Monica, 25. Finally they chased after his father, Deo, 47, who had fled in the direction of the sugar fields, and shot him too.

The men's appeals against sentence were dismissed in 1997 by the local Court of Appeal and it was after that that the men petitioned the Privy Council. A hangover from the days of Empire, the council is retained as final court of appeal by a host of Commonwealth nations including Jamaica, Belize and the Bahamas, although its chief role now is advising the Queen on constitutional matters.

Chadee and his gang were due to be hanged in batches of three last week, but they won a stay of execution when the Privy Council ruled that it needed more time to hear the appeal.

Trinidad and Tobago has not always respected the council's authority, however. When Glen Ashby was hanged in 1994, judges in London were still hearing his case.

Caribbean nations' resentment over the continuing role of the Privy Council is, in essence, the result of a wider culture clash. Britain has urged its former colonies to change their policies on a range of matters, including the death penalty, homosexuality and other human rights issues.

Yesterday could be the last time that Britain decides the fate of citizens across the Atlantic. In July, leaders of the 15-nation Caribbean Community will resolve whether to establish their own regional supreme court to have the final say in such cases.

If they do decide to dispense with the Privy Council, few people will be more pleased than the judges who sit on it. In a recent interview, Lord Browne- Wilkinson admitted he and his colleagues were "extremely unpopular" in the West Indies. The frictions, he said, were "chiefly about the death penalty".

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