Former British High Commissioner to T&T Arthur Snell’s baby son was initially denied a United Kingdom (UK) passport because he was born in Trinidad and Tobago.
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I want justice
A bush fire raged in an empty lot of land obliquely opposite Pauline Lum Fai’s home at Henry Street, Orange Valley, close to where the decomposing body of her six-year-old son Sean Luke was found ten years ago.
The red flames shot high into the air. A reflection of the rage in Lum Fai’s heart as ten years have passed and she’s yet to get justice for her son’s death.
“Is right there, about 300 yards away as I glance across, that is what I have to deal with every day,” said Lum Fai as she spoke with us days before the anniversary of her son’s death.
She was 43 when he was “slaughtered like a lamb” and today, at 53, a decade later, Lum Fai is still struggling to come to terms with the death of her “baby”. She said “my son’s blood is crying out for justice. Ten years and nothing has happened, where is the justice for me?
“I probably will die and will not get any justice,” she said.
On March 26, 2006, life changed dramatically for Lum Fai. She had just finished cooking a lunch of rice, dhal (split peas) and curried duck. Sean had taken a shower and sat down to eat lunch with Lum Fai. She said when he did not eat all the food, “I told him I putting it in the oven for you for later.” According to Lum Fai, she and Sean went to take their usual Sunday afternoon nap around 12.30 pm.
“Sean was rolling his corgi car on my arm, he playful you know, and I fell asleep.”
She did not know anything for the next hour and a half, she said.
She never budged when Sean got off the bed, opened the door and went outside. Lum Fai dismissed talk that she was “drunk or had taken drugs” that Sunday afternoon. She said one newspaper (not the Guardian) reported that, but claimed “it is not true.”
So what would account for the fact that she was not awakened by any noise Sean would have made? She said, “I was extremely tired. I had washed and cleaned and cooked before we went to take the usual Sunday sleep. Normally I would hear noise, but I did not hear anything that day.”
Lum Fai lives with the regret “that I did not hear any noise to wake up.” But her bigger regret is that she left the United States of America and returned to Trinidad where her son met his death.
“Is years I have been coping with blame because I came back to Trinidad and my son was butchered.”
Lum Fai had left Trinidad in 1996 to live in New York. Sean was born on August 17, 1999, at the Lincoln Hospital in Bronx. She hated life in New York, she said. “I found it too confining, I wanted Sean to grow up free, free to ride a bike, fly a kite, go out without fear.” When Sean was two and a half years old, “still in diapers, I brought him back to Trinidad.”
Sean grew up as she wanted, with the many freedoms children living in close-knit communities such Orange Valley enjoy. Playing cricket and football, running to the neighbour’s house, flying kite and just “liming” outside.
“He was a loving child who had a lot of fun,” said Lum Fai. But less than four years after their return to Trinidad, Sean’s life was brutally snuffed out. “That is the worse part for me, I bring my son back to get killed,” Lum Fai said.
Sean’s father, Daniel, who had separated from Lum Fai long before their return to Trinidad, blamed her for their son’s death. But in her defence, she said his father was supposed to take him the weekend he was killed, “but he never called.”
Lum Fai said, “Usually Sean would spend weekends with his father in Aripo. His father would call and say I in Couva, and I would carry Sean with his bag packed with clothes and his favourite toys.” But no such call came that weekend, “that is why Sean was home.”
Lum Fai said while some people believe she was a delinquent mother, “I loved him more than myself. I started to live through Sean. I could not bear to be away from him. If I going anywhere with my friend I used to tell him I going to the doctor and he would cry, but I would talk to him and he would say ok, mummy coming back just now.”
She said she showered Sean with love, but also allowed him “space” since “everything was mommy.”
It was the desire to give him “space” that left her unperturbed for hours when she got up and did not find him on the bed with her that day.
Lum Fai believes Sean’s performance in school was a reflection of “a settled and happy life.” She asked, “If he was not loved and well taken care of would he have been doing so well in school?
“Sean was an A student and when the teacher asked him what he wanted to be when he grow up, he said I want to fix plane engines and spaceship engines.” With tears running down her cheeks, Lum Fai said “he was brighter than most children his age and a joy to be with.”
As she showed us his last end-of-term test report in second year, Lum Fai boasted that Sean was doing well in the Maths and Science—in his last test he got 94 out of 100 in Science and 87 out of 100 in Maths. His highest score was Social Studies, 96 out of 100.
His report card reflected that he was an A student. His favourite colour was green, and when he made a post card for her for Mother’s Day, he coloured it green. She held his green pencil in her hand as she went through the many folders which held the memories of his brief life on earth.
She lamented “he was such a bright child but the only certificate he ever got was when he graduated from pre-school.”
Lum Fai lives in the hope that “one day I will get justice” but with ten years already gone, she is doubtful it will happen any time soon.
No forgiveness for perpetrators
The alleged perpetrators of the heinous crime were 13 and 16 at the time of the crime. They were sent to juvenile prison. Today, they are now adult and are at the Maximum Security Prison at Golden Grove.
The matter was called in the San Fernando Court last year, but the actual trial is yet to begin. This makes Lum Fai’s pain even more difficult to bear. “The justice system...can I say it?...it sucks. Those in authority not in my situation, they don’t know what I going through, it is an injustice to me and my family. I just want swift justice, I want to put it behind me, this has stopped my life. It is like a yoke around my neck.
“Everything so slow and drawn out, it’s like a burden. You end up feeling like the perpetrator.”
Lum Fai agonised that while relatives of those charged with the crime “can go in prison and visit them, I can’t visit my son, he will never come back to me.”
There had been a lobby for the two charged with the crime to be tried as adults given the nature of the crime committed. An autopsy showed that Sean was buggered and a cane stalk inserted in his rectum. His intestines, heart and lungs were all damaged. He suffered for hours before he died, but could not cry out for help because of the internal damage.
She was also highly critical of the police whom she said treated her like she was a nuisance when she went to the Couva Police Station to report her son was missing. At a time when crime is at an all-time high, Lum Fai had some advice for officers, “at least show some compassion, be empathetic and understanding. Don’t think everyone who come coming to waste time. See the pain on their faces. Look at the fear in their eyes, the eyes speak. Don’t treat it so lightly.”
To this day, she is grateful that because her son was an American citizen, the US Embassy intervened and the police finally took action. “Without the intervention of the US Embassy,” she said, “the officers would have done nothing. They told me I was making mischief and wasting their time.”
An officer close to the case said at least one of the boys had expressed regret at what happened, as did the boy’s mother. But Lum Fai told us she can’t find it in her heart just yet to forgive the alleged perpetrators of the crime. Moreso because the perpetrators lived just a short distance away, interacted with them, and “we treated them like family.”
She said “I want to know why, wWhy allyuh hurt him, I just want to know why? I will never know why.” She said without understanding why they really did it, it would be difficult to forgive. “I don’t think I could forgive just yet, everything is still so painful. I see them hurting him, he was an innocent lamb, they just mutilated him, they don’t know what they took from me.” .
Since Sean’s death she has abandoned Hindusim and turned to the Jehovah Witness Faith. It was not a difficult decision to make she said, “Imagine a pundit telling me my son did something so bad in another life that he had to pay for it, Sean was an angel. I no longer believed in the faith, I would have been a hypocrite to stay,” she said.
Today as a Jehovah Witness, Lum Fai said she lives for the promise of the resurrection “they give me the hope that he will come back to me and that keeps me going. I does imagine him coming back to me, running back to me, I does see that before I go to sleep, that is how I does think.”
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