The already sluggish criminal justice system now has another hurdle to climb after the lone pathologist on duty downed his scalpel yesterday, saying he will not be working until there was an improvement in the operations of the Forensic Science Centre (FSC), St James.
Speaking with the media outside the FSC yesterday, Dr Valery Alexandrov said for the year he has already performed 310 autopsies, 156 of them being homicides and by international standards a pathologist that crosses 350 autopsies a year can be stripped of his ability to do his job through deficiency phase one.
Alexandrov said he was the only working pathologist for six weeks as his colleague, Dr Eslyn McDonald-Burris, was on vacation and Dr Hughvon des Vignes had not signed a renewal contract.
He complained that he was understaffed based on international standards which required one mortuary assistant for every 100 cases and so far there had been 1,200 cases done at the FSC for the year.
To date there are five attendants with three of them being women.
"This is a tough job lifting dead bodies and what not. There is a need for a legal mortuary attendant to handle all the legal documents, instead what we have is a radiologist and on the job trainees," Alexandrov said.
The pathologist who has been working in T&T and by extension the Caribbean for the last seven years said that the leadership of the FSC was to be blamed for the "national catastrophe."
He added that he has been clamouring for more staff, better equipment and round-the-clock availability of the refrigerators at FSC to store bodies, particularly homicides, to preserve evidence but those cries have fallen on deaf ears.
Yesterday Alexandrov told the relatives of seven men murdered over the weekend and other people who turned up for their autopsies that he was not performing any post mortems until further notice. Relatives, he said, were sympathetic to his plight and agreed with him.
Three women who spoke to the media after speaking with Alexandrov said the pathologist was right for demanding better working conditions and called on authorities to do something about it.
Other relatives were overheard saying that for an oil rich country such conditions should not be happening.
One man who came to support a friend who lost a loved one, asked about the Muslim rites of a swift burial, a sentiment also expressed by Alexandrov, a Jew.
Alexandrov said he was not being malicious towards the grieving relatives as having lost a son years ago during the US invasion of Iraq he could understand their plight.
"This is not a spontaneous revolt. Even in slavery a good slave master knows to give his slaves the tools needed to do the job," Alexandrov said, adding that he had spoken to two former national security ministers but nothing has changed.
Alexandrov added that he was also owed gratuity for contracts long expired but have been given the run-around. He added that for the 142 working days of the year, there were 648 autopsies done at an average of five a day.
Asked about the Alexandrov's concerns at a press conference yesterday at the National Security Ministry, Minister of National Security Edmund Dillon said the Government was in the process of recruiting more staff at the FSC.
He admitted that the field of forensic science was not an attractive one but scholarships would be provided and in the short-term there were plans to extend existing contracts and hire new skilled labour.