You are here
Covering Randy Burroughs
“Suzie, I have a big story for you. They hold Naya last night.” The voice on the other end of the line was a familiar and frequent early-morning caller to the newsroom—Police Commissioner Randolph Burroughs, who never missed an opportunity to highlight his exploits with his elite crime-fighting unit, the Flying Squad.
This was in the early 1980s when I was the most junior member of the crime desk, assigned to cover the magistrates’ courts and crime for the Evening News, then a sister paper of the Trinidad Guardian. My seniors were the late Evans K Greene and Francis Joseph, now adviser to National Security Minister Jack Warner.
Seniority didn’t matter to Mr Burroughs, however. Whichever crime reporter he caught would do, since he had a habit of dictating the story, even down to advising on the headline and which photograph of him should appear with the story. Memories of those days and my regular interaction with Mr Burroughs—via the telephone or on a crime scene—came flooding back this week when Mr Warner expressed his desire to bring back the Flying Squad.
For some 16 years, spanning the 1970s into the 1980s, Mr Burroughs and the officers of the Flying Squad achieved folk-hero status with their crime-fighting exploits. On that particular morning, Mr Burroughs was calling with news of the arrest of Naim Naya, a reputed drug dealer who conducted his illicit trade under the cover of a thriving fruit stand in El Socorro, San Juan.
Just a few years later, the Scott Drug Report identified Mr Burroughs as being “linked intimately” with Naim “Naya” Ali and others who were “very extensively involved in drug trafficking,” including Dole Chadee, Rama the Jammer of San Juan, and Rudolph Mills.
The Scott Drug Report sparked a precipitous fall from grace for Mr Burroughs and his Flying Squad, with evidence that several police officers were “complicit in operating protection rackets for the larger dealers” and “evidence of engagement by policemen in other criminal acts, including smuggling, counterfeiting and probably murder.”
The Flying Squad was a brainchild of Dr Eric Williams, formed in 1970 in the aftermath of the Black Power uprising. The squad first won acclaim in 1973 when they subdued the National Union of Freedom Fighters (NUFF), a group that seemed bent on sparking national unrest. The squad’s leader from the start was Mr Burroughs, who would go on to serve as this country’s most colourful and high-profile police commissioner, from 1978 to 1987.
Members of the squad were almost as famous as the then top cop. Mervyn Cordner, Lance Lashley, Michael Lambert, Thomas Cunningham, Rudolph Leach, Gilbert Reyes and Cecil Carrington were among the officers who frequently made the news for their encounters with criminals.
More often than not, the suspects were on the losing end, either being captured in dramatic fashion, or being gunned down in what was always described as “an exchange of gunfire.” Their achievements were legendary and Mr Burroughs, who knew his way around the media, kept them constantly in the headlines.
To this day, some people are convinced that Mr Burroughs was the most effective crime-fighter ever in T&T. Based on the evidence regularly published in newspapers and broadcast on radio and television back then, it was hard to believe otherwise. Mr Burroughs was always accessible. He always took my calls—although most times he would be the first to call with the latest crime news, saving reporters a lot of trouble.
Very often he would summon me to his office to get news and photos of the latest cache of arms, or drug finds. I would walk up St Vincent Street, go straight into his office and there on his desk all the seized weapons, ammunition and drugs would be displayed.
At crime scenes, photographers would arrive in time to capture images of Mr Burroughs standing over the body of some dead robbery or drug-trafficking suspect. The official story would be that he had led the exercise, ensuring that one more criminal was off the streets. It all came crashing down with the release of the Scott Drug Report in 1986. The Flying Squad was disbanded and Mr Burroughs was arrested and charged with conspiracy to murder and conspiracy to traffic cocaine.
Evidence from secret witnesses and reams of written statements told of high-level corruption and collusion being rampant and entrenched in the police service and across the political, economic and security hierarchies. The officers of the Flying Squad were described as a virtual law unto themselves and 53 of them, including Mr Burroughs, were implicated in the report and suspended from duty.
For Mr Burroughs, it was a disgraceful end to a policing career in which he rose through the ranks from mechanic, then chauffeur to legendary crime-fighter ASP Conrad Fletcher, to the highest rank in the service. He was charged with conspiracy to traffic cocaine at Carli Bay, Couva. The State’s evidence came from Cuthbert “Scotty” Charles, an underworld figure who claimed he saw Burroughs supervising the offloading of a shipment of cocaine at Carli Bay. Burroughs was cleared of that charge.
Later, he was charged with conspiracy to murder two wanted men at Lady Young Road, Morvant. He was committed to stand trial, but the case fell apart before Justice Jean Permanand in the Port-of-Spain High Court in 1987. By that time Burroughs was a shadow of his former self. He took early retirement and died on October 9, 1996. Members of the Flying Squad were eventually recalled to duty and were able to resume their careers, staying in the service until retirement.
User comments posted on this website are the sole views and opinions of the comment writer and are not representative of Guardian Media Limited or its staff. Guardian Media Limited accepts no liability and will not be held accountable for user comments.
Please help us keep out site clean from inappropriate comments by using the flag option.
Guardian Media Limited reserves the right to remove, to edit or to censor any comments. Any content which is considered unsuitable, unlawful or offensive, includes personal details, advertises or promotes products, services or websites or repeats previous comments will be removed.