Just one day to mark 24 years since he went missing on May 23, 1998, horrible memories of the brutal murder of Akiel Chambers have resurfaced. When the chairman of the 1997 task force into the abuse of wards at children's homes, Robert Sabga, linked Akiel's death to a paedophile ring last week, it created more heartache, anguish and pain for his family who have been waiting in vain for justice.
Sabga, speaking in an online interview from his home in Canada, said that an individual who was involved in a paedophile ring 25 years ago and holds a very high office in T&T today was linked to Akiel's case. He did not call the person's name.
But in Belmont, last Wednesday, Akiel's aunt Rosemarie Seaton–his father, Rawle Chambers's sister–broke down in tears as she stood behind her burglar-proof window. She said the revelation and resurfacing of her nephew's murder in the media and on social platforms has only created agitation and reopened wounds that never healed.
Akiel, 11, went missing at the home of businessman Charles James at Balata Terrace, in upscale Haleland Park, Maraval, where his then-wife, Annelore James, had hosted a pool party to celebrate the 11th birthday of their daughter Carie. Akiel's body was found a day later, on May 24, in their pool.
A broken and emotional Seaton responding to Sabga's revelation said, "I can't take it. It is too much. The stress is killing me...it hurting me inside. Everything is being rehashed. Nothing will come out of this.
"I don't even want to call Akiel's father in England to tell him what going on in Trinidad. This will only upset him and bring him further pain and grief." Seaton said.
"When will it end? Gosh, when will it end? When will this matter be put to rest?" she asked wearily.
An elderly male came to the window and coaxed her to be calm.
Wiping away tears, Seaton walked away saying she could not speak further.
Akiel's uncle Lindon Chambers, who lives elsewhere, said the family has been trying to forget the ugly past even though they still live in agony every day.
"The memories are hard to erase even though my sisters and them have already given up on Akiel's murder after that lengthy period of time...24 years. They just tell themselves he's gone...he died and that is it. Nothing will come out of this," said Chambers.
Chambers said when they speak to Akiel's dad on the phone they try to avoid any discussion about his son because most times he is "despondent".
But the family never expected to see screaming headlines in the newspapers and reports on social media about a paedophile ring involving Akiel. This sunk their hearts further.
"To this day there has never been closure. We have to live with this." Chambers said they may go to their graves not knowing who sexually assaulted and murdered Akiel.
"That is the hardest part of dealing with this."
Akiel's uncle was sceptical and felt this new revelation will go nowhere as the names of the people involved are not being called.
Last week, Housing Minister Camille Robinson-Regis called on Sabga to go to the police with information on Akiel's death since he claimed to know the identity of the two people involved.
Sabga said he would cooperate with the police in its investigations.
Director of the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) David West.
Hope for justice faded
But for Seaton, Chambers and the rest of the family, their hope of justice has faded. And for good reasons. After Akiel's matter was sent back to the police for further investigations during the inquest by coroner Sherman McNicholls 18 years ago, it has been languishing and remains a cold case.
But four years ago, 20 years after the child's murder, there was a probe into Akiel's death by the Police Complaints Authority (PCA). In May 2018, the PCA in a press release promised to conduct a probe into the conduct of police officers tasked with investigating the death of Akiel pursuant to Section 21(1) (c) of the PCA Act, Chapter 15:05. The investigation involved a monitoring and auditing exercise.
The PCA probe found that evidence collected during the police investigation into Akiel's murder is "no longer available."
The investigation pointed to poor policing by junior officers and neglect and poor management of the case by senior officers who "failed to do their work."
The probe concluded that officers involved in the investigations "cannot now be held to account as they are either deceased or have retired from the T&T Police Service." Hence, "no disciplinary action, if warranted, may be taken at this juncture." The officers are now out of the PCA's remit, PCA Director David West said.
In addition, "there is no available evidence of the commission of a criminal offence by a police officer," the probe revealed.
West said for the Authority, Akiel's matter has been closed.
He believes that if senior officers had taken charge of the investigation and not left it in the hands of their juniors, the perpetrators might have been brought to justice.
From what West has seen, "there is not much that can be done now to find the perpetrators of this matter unless someone comes forward and confesses we are not going to get the evidence."
The information on the PCA probe was contained in a one-page document headlined "PCA statement on Akiel Chambers Audit."
It stated that "following a review of the available documentary evidence, including but not limited to the post mortem report, statements of persons who were present during the poolside birthday party at which Chambers was last seen, reports of police officers who were involved in the initial and cold case investigations as well as the evidence elicited during the coronial proceedings, the PCA concluded its exercise in December 2019."
The PCA said it was informed that investigations into this matter are continuing by the TTPS's Cold Case Operational Team.
The PCA advised anyone with pertinent information to furnish the TTPS "in the interest of bringing their investigation to a stage of finality and, more importantly, allowing the relatives and friends of Chambers (Akiel) to come to a full state of closure."
West: it could have been a better investigation
Asked to comment further on the information that came before them during the probe, West said "it could have been a better investigation. I think the senior police officers left it too much for the junior officers to investigate who did not have the experience in investigations.
"The police could have done their work. They could have brought people in for questioning and interrogated them if they were suspects or if they had any leads. It is not really up to Mr Sabga, it is up to the TTPS at the time to have done a proper and thorough investigation."
Asked if he felt the police had fallen down on the job, West said "I would say the initial investigation was where it went wrong. After the inquest by Sherman McNicholls, the police did try to then play catch up but at that point in time it was too late."
West said his heart goes out to Akiel's family.
"I feel very sorry for the family, in that, up to now, they have not had any closure in the matter. We are not in a good place. I should say it is unfortunate that this matter is still opened and has not been closed as yet by the police. It is unfortunate."
Questioned if any type of action can be taken against the police officers who were involved in the initial investigation, West said "..maybe from the TTPS if they have new evidence or if they reopen the matter and reinterview them again, they can do that. Again, they are civilians, it would be voluntary, so they don't have to say anything. That is why I am saying it is unfortunate this has taken so long."
West said Akiel's perpetrator/s could be living amongst us.
Former acting police commissioner Stephen Williams
Williams: The matter never came before me
From 1998 (at the time of Akiel's murder) to 2003 Hilton Guy, now deceased, served as commissioner of police.
Former police commissioner Stephen Williams said during his tenure–2012 to 2018– Akiel's matter never came before him.
Williams also said he was unaware of the officers who did the initial investigations 24 years ago.
"Whoever did that matter I don't even know. That is a matter since 1998."
Williams opted not to speak about the evidence being destroyed.
He questioned, "What evidence was destroyed? When it was destroyed?"
He added, "All these things become contextual and for me to loosely speak about it...it is kind of unfair."
Former police commissioner Gary Griffith last week denied he received information on Akiel's case which he did not act on. He said the most recent development in the case was the PCA's audit into the boy's death.
Former commissioner of police Gary Griffith.
When Akiel went missing
Akiel's body was discovered in a crouched position, submerged, wearing red and white shorts when he was fished out of the pool at the James' home on May 24, 1998.
Akiel had gone missing while attending the pool party. Despite searches being conducted for him on the day of the party (May 23), he was not found. His body was discovered in the pool the following day.
Carie was Akiel's classmate as they both attended Blackman's Private School in Maraval.
Had he been alive, Akiel would have celebrated his 35th birthday on January 4.
Chambers lived with his aunt Valerie Pascal at Henry Street, Port-of-Spain, as his mother, Deborah, lived in England while his father resided in La Horquetta, Arima.
Akiel's murder has left me scarred for life, tormented–child witness
One of the children who testified in the inquest admitted that Akiel's murder has left her scarred for life and tormented.
Now, 35, the woman said she was still lost for words.
"I am still waiting to find out what the hell happened because that was my friend," she said, referring to Akiel.
"I did not only lose him but my whole childhood was gone too. I am being accused and threatened online."
The threats she said stemmed from a recent post on Facebook explaining how Akiel was sexually assaulted by a group of men at the birthday party, then murdered and his body thrown in the pool by one of the parents the next morning.
"The journalist tagged me in the post. Half the stuff she is saying is wrong. They are lies. I am being harassed online and my phone is being called non-stop. And I am being threatened online."
The autopsies and inquests
Two autopsies were conducted separately on Akiel's body by pathologists Dr Neville Jankey and Dr Hughvon des Vignes.
According to Jankey's statement, the autopsy was performed on May 25, 1998, at the Port-of-Spain General Hospital Mortuary.
"The body was identified by Chambers' father, Rawle Chambers. Present were police constables Alvarez and Husbands of the Maraval Police Station. The anus was patulous and the anal canal was very lax. I concluded from the findings that the child had been subjected over a long period to repeated sexual intercourse through the anus. I cannot say when was the last time there was sexual intercourse.
"I didn't take any swabs from the anal canal to look for any spermatozoa. I did not feel the intercourse was related directly to the cause of death. The body had bathing trucks but no underwear...as PC Husbands took away an article of underwear."
The second autopsy was performed on May 28, 1998, by Hughvon des Vignes who noted that "samples were taken from microscopic examinations and swabs were taken of oral and anal cavities for microscopic examination as well." These samples were destroyed after two years.
Two inquests into Akiel's death were also conducted. The first was dismissed. In the second inquest, then chief magistrate Sherman McNicolls, officiating as coroner, heard the testimonies of students, parents and guests.
On February 18, 2004, McNicholls ruled that he was satisfied Akiel did not drown accidentally.
In the years that followed Akiel's death, his father migrated to England.
On February 5, 2006, Annelore James, 59, lost her right leg when she stopped to help an accident victim on the Solomon Hochoy Highway.
James was driving when she saw a car slam into one of the concrete pillars on the highway and stopped to assist the driver who was trapped inside the car bleeding profusely. In trying to pull the driver out of the vehicle, another car crashed into James injuring her leg which doctors had to amputate.
She eventually divorced Charles James and moved to Canada.
Charles and another witness Trevor Craigwell also left the country.
Attorney Persad: Witnesses were not forthcoming enough in their responses to the court
Rajiv Persad, one of the attorneys who represented the Chambers family in the inquest said he still lives with the hope that someone will come forward with "useful, credible and substantial information" that will allow the police to conduct their investigations effectively and bring closure to this issue.
"The tools available to the police today are very different from 24 years ago and while I appreciate that the public may have very good reasons for looking the other way or not getting involved, we have to realise that once we choose to adopt that attitude of indifference, the ability of the police and the criminal justice system to function effectively will always be handicapped," he said.
Persad, on whether he had heard of a paedophile ring before, said "this is the first time I am hearing about it."
He added that during the corner's inquest when the available evidence was taken in the court, "there was a suspicion that some person or persons would have been responsible for the sexual acts...from the post mortem...appeared to have been perpetrated on the child."
He said no material had established when the assault would have taken place in relation to Akiel.
"But the circumstance of the post mortem report coupled with the child being found at the bottom of the pool in circumstances where the reasonable inference to be drawn was that his body was placed in the pool by someone unknown after both the police had thoroughly searched the pool on the night of Akiel going missing, followed by the fact that the children living in the house had swum in the pool the following morning, yet never saw his body in the pool raised huge red flags that this child met his death in circumstances that to this day we still do not know."
Asked if names being whispered as being in an alleged paedophile ring which Sabga spoke about can stand up as facts/evidence for the police to restart their investigation, Persad said it depends.
"It does not matter whether it was whispered or shouted but what is important is the substance of the information. What we must not do is speculate as to what the information is and who the information relates to."
Asked if he felt the Government should retain a foreign specialised team to investigate the circumstances surrounding Akiel's murder, Persad said he does not think this would make sense.
"Firstly, every day people lose loved ones to homicides that really are beyond tragic. I appreciate that Akiel's death as Martin Daly SC pointed out years ago was a stain on our conscience.
"If I felt that it could help the investigation because there was good credible information available that could move the investigation forward, then I might have supported such a call to retain a foreign specialised team."
Asked if it was ever revealed in the inquest who gave permission for the evidence to be destroyed two years after Akiel's death, Persad said he was unsure what specific evidence was being referred to. "But during the course of the inquest, I do not think it ever came out as to who gave permission for any evidence to be destroyed two years after Akiel's death or whether the inquest was aware that it had been destroyed."
Did the police do enough with their investigation to bring the perpetrator/s to justice?
Persad said he was not in a position to answer that question.
During the inquest, Persad said, the coroner had the task of questioning people to determine whether the death was unnatural which he found, but based on the material before him, "it was very difficult to identify any one person or persons responsible for the child's death."
In those circumstances, Persad said, "the law of T&T allows the coroner to refer to the inquest after it is closed to the Commissioner of the Police for further investigation.
"The obvious gaps were that the coroner at the time of doing his inquest was limited to the information that was provided to him when he did the inquest. If it is that there was knowledge by persons that there was a paedophile ring in existence and that there was some link between the existence of that ring and the tragic death of this child, then it is a tragedy that the persons with that information are only raising it 24 years after the child's death."
Pressed if some people who testified in the inquest withheld information for fear of repercussions, Persad said while he had no basis to suggest that "I felt that some of the witnesses could have been more forthcoming in their responses to the court."
How does he feel knowing that Akiel's death continues to remain unsolved and the perpetrator/s remains untouched?
"The same way that I feel when you realised that the great majority of murders and crimes of violence committed on a daily basis go undetected without our criminal justice system being able to deal effectively with the situation."
Persad said he hopes that Akiel's family will one day get justice.
Questions sent via WhatsApp to acting Police Commissioner Jacob and Assistant Commissioner of Police Joanne Archie on Thursday were not answered.