Yvonne Webb and Alana Boodoo-Suraj
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Military manhunt, bomb scare at GML
A military manhunt for a man who soldiers say can help them solve the murder of their colleague Kayode Thomas led to drama on the doorstep of Guardian Media Ltd yesterday. The suspect, identified as Dillon “Bandy” Skeete, agreed to meet with a T&T Guardian reporter earlier yesterday. After several conversations between the reporter and a lawyer representing him, Skeete eventually agreed to meet at the T&T Guardian building at St Vincent Street, Port-of-Spain, around 4 pm. A series of incidents took place shortly before the meeting.
Armed soldiers rushed into the Queen Street carpark of the newspaper and questioned the security guard and another member of staff about a red Mazda car which had been parked there since 6.15 am. The driver of the car told the security guard on duty that she was a new employee and worked at CNC3. When she left, however, she said she was working at the T&T Guardian sales department. Another group of soldiers were seen parked on St Vincent Street, metres away from the entrance to the T&T Guardian building, in a military vehicle. Shortly after 3 pm, Skeete’s lawyer, Russell Warner, arrived in the lobby. Skeete, accompanied by three women, arrived moments later. During the interview, Skeete claimed he was being hunted across the country by soldiers and feared for his life.
As the interview was ending, about 20 minutes later, an unidentified man telephoned the T&T Guardian operator and said there was a bomb in the building and it would blow up if “you all don’t ----ing come out.” By then Skeete had left the building. A senior soldier then telephoned an editor saying he had heard a man who soldiers were looking for was in the building. After the bomb threat, alarms were set off and staff from the various media arms of GML, including television station CNC3 and the GML radio stations, began pouring out of the building to gather at the muster point at Woodford Square. Police and firefighters blocked off St Vincent Street, directing rush-hour traffic along alternative routes. Police assigned to Special Branch, the intelligence-gathering unit of the Police Service, were the first to respond. They were later joined by police assigned to the Canine Unit and two bomb-sniffing dogs.
During a detailed search, which lasted almost two hours, the police were accompanied by three members of GML staff. They gave the all-clear to return to the building around 5.45 pm.
The disruption delayed the CNC3 7 pm newscast and affected the Crime Watch programme and other media operations.Skeete’s lawyer said his client was able to elude the military dragnet and made it to a safe location.
Skeete: I’m scared for my life
In the interview Skeete said members of his family were being harassed by soldiers in different parts of the country. He said on July 9, his mother’s house in Toco was searched, operating without police assistance. Skeete described similar searches at his home in East Dry River, Port-of-Spain, and at a relative’s home in Couva. Soldiers also searched another relative’s home in Champs Fleurs. “I’m scared for my life,” Skeete said, adding that there was no warrant out for his arrest.
A member of the police Homicide Bureau confirmed there was no warrant out for Skeete nor was he wanted for questioning over the soldier’s murder. Skeete said he has had no direct conversation with either police or soldiers and had been speaking to police through his lawyers. “To me, it looks like those soldiers just want to out my lights. They are coming in masks and they are threatening my family,” he said. He admitted that he has two matters pending in court for purchasing a stolen phone and obscene language and said some other matters, which he did not identify, were thrown out of court.
Skeete said soldiers had harassed his eight-year-old son and his girlfriend. Asked why he felt soldiers were looking for him, he said he was told it was in relation to the murder of Thomas on June 29. “He (Thomas) was my cousin. He was killed in Beverly Hills. I am from East Dry River. There is no way I can go there.” He explained that was because of conflict between some residents of both areas. He said he could not go to work as a contractor with the Housing Development Corporation or stay home with his children but was forced to hide in fear for his life.
“I really want this to stop,” he added.
Army: Public should co-operate
The T&T Guardian contacted civil military affairs officer of the Defence Force Major Al Alexander, who said soldiers were accompanied by police when they searched Skeete’s relatives’ home in Couva. Neither Alexander or Public Affairs Officer of the Regiment, Capt Stefan Alfonso, said they were looking into information provided by the media yesterday. Alfonso said: “The regiment is investigating these reports and we are also asking members of the public to co-operate with us and provide any information or evidence of abuse by soldiers to help with investigations.”
Commenting on the bomb threat, managing director of Guardian Media Ltd Lisa Agard said it was an attack on press freedom.
“I am very concerned if someone can so easily and so nonchalantly call in a bomb threat in to a media house and disrupt our operations so significantly.
“We have to be very concerned and we have to be worried about this attack on the media — and we regard it as an attack on the media,” Agard said.
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