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Friday, July 25, 2014
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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Griffith: State witnesses must ask for protection
Minister of National Security Gary Griffith says there is nothing wrong with this country’s witness protection programme and being a state witness does not automatically mean you are part of the programme. Answering questions about the effectiveness of T&T’s witness protection programme in light of the death of state witness Stacy Roopan, Griffith said there was a difference between state witness and witness protection.
“Our witness protection programme, there has been...no one has been killed in the witness protection programme for several years. So the witness protection programme is working,” he said yesterday in an interview after speaking at the drafting workshop for a new national security policy at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine. He added that it was unknown whether Roopan’s murder was “based on the actual matter where she was a state witness,” and there needed to be a proper investigation to verify.
On Monday, less than two months after an intruder broke into Roopan’s car and left her a death threat, the Couva mother of one was gunned down outside her son’s preschool. In a previous report, one of Roopan’s relatives said last December someone broke into Roopan’s car, stole her personal documents and left a handwritten note on her car seat, warning that if she were to testify in an ongoing court matter she would be killed.
On Monday, when she arrived at the school, a white car pulled up and a gunman shot her six times, then sped off. Roopan was hit in the head and upper body and died on the spot. Griffith said: “I know when people hear the person is a state witness there’s an automatic concern that the State is not doing enough...The State can only provide witness protection if the person is willing and sends forward a request.
“What I have to do and continue to do is put mechanisms in place—policies, not crime plans—to ensure persons who are willing to come forward and give information that can be turned to evidence, and it can then be used for successful conviction,” he said. He said systems like Virtual Police Officer (Vipo) would give people the opportunity to pass on information safely, without any concern for reprisal.
“This is what we need badly. We need to bridge that gap between the police and the citizens. To take away that fear, for them to have that trust with the law enforcement officials, and to give that information. That information is critical for us to remove the so-called rogue elements in our society, once and for all.”