BASSETERRE, St. Kitts – OVER the last 12 months, St. Kitts and Nevis has seen a marked reduction in the number of violent crimes, most specifically homicides, but questions remain about the functionality of the Witness Protection Programme in light of complaints recently made by an individual on the programme.
For many years, it was suggested that the Federation should establish a Witness Protection Programme in order to not only assist in the solvability of cases, but mainly to protect the lives of witnesses.
While responding to a caller's question on the Government’s ‘Working for You’ programme last year, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of National Security Osmond Petty indicated that it was something the entire region was considering.
He acknowledged, at the time, that having such a programme is a costly one, stopping short of confirming or denying if the programme exists and explaining the challenges that come with such an initiative.
Petty was quoted by Freedom FM as saying: “I take the caller's point that we’re going to have to - and not just St. Kitts and Nevis, the region - deal with this problem of safeguarding witnesses because we do have the problem here and other countries have the problem, but it’s a collaborative effort.”
So, is there such a programme in St. Kitts and Nevis and is it operational?
That is the question SKNVibes recently posted to Commissioner of Police Hilroy Brandy, and he confirmed that it has been functional for more than 10 years and it has borne fruits.
Though he did not give much details of how the programme functions and the technicalities behind it, the Top Cop explained that the initiative is applied to those persons whose lives have been threatened.
“Yes, there is a Witness Protection Programme. If somebody is threatened or their life is at risk, we have various countries in which we can ship the person out to,” he disclosed.
Sources familiar with the initiative indicated that there was no formalised programme in place, but legislation was passed several years prior to begin the groundwork.
One of the sources confirmed that a number of people would have to be placed in state care in order to testify as witnesses, depending on the nature of the crime that was committed, as would normally be seen in the movies or television shows.
But there is a growing concern for some of those persons who are in the care of the state, as SKNVibes has learnt that several individuals are finding it difficult and have alleged that the Police Force has turned a blind eye on them.
The Top Cop however vehemently shot down those allegations, instead berating an individual who is on the programme.
“Everybody on the programme is treated properly until their time is up,” he noted.
Commissioner Brandy acknowledged that there is a single individual on the programme who has been expressing frustration, and he stated that that person was “misbehaving”.
“There is one individual who is under the Witness Protection who believe that they must be there for life. That is not the case! So (they) is the one calling around asking for help because (they) got into problems with the law,” the Top Cop explained.
But what exactly is the Police Force’s responsibility when it comes to protecting witnesses after they would have testified?
To the above question, Commissioner Brandy revealed that a review is done of each person and a decision is made on the way forward after their case would have been completed.
One way the determination is made is by assessing the threat level against the informant and a decision is arrived at on whether that individual should remain within the programme, the Commissioner explained.
Back in 2010, as SKNVibes reported, then Director of Public Prosecution Paulina Hendrickson called for the implementation of such a programme to protect witnesses who could bring closure to cases.
“Witnesses are reluctant because of fear, especially in homicide cases,” she said.
The source explained to SKNVibes that if the allegations being leveled at the Police Force were true, then it is a concern that others might not want to come forward and testify.
A similar position was articulated by the former Director of Public Prosecution back in 2010: “My Lord, there are those willing to give evidence in serious matters but they are concerned for their safety and would need protection”.
But what will happen to those under the programme expressing frustration is now left up to the Top Cop and others in authority to determine.