Thursday 24 September, 2020

Grange Hill left to the mercy of the ‘wolves’?

National Security Minister, Dr Horace Chang in discussion with Western Westmoreland Member of Parliament, Dr Wykeham McNeill during a visit to Grange Hill after gunmen killed seven persons in the community in May.

National Security Minister, Dr Horace Chang in discussion with Western Westmoreland Member of Parliament, Dr Wykeham McNeill during a visit to Grange Hill after gunmen killed seven persons in the community in May.

In what some described as a knee-jerk reaction to the Grange Hill massacre that left seven persons, including two children, dead, and 10 others nursing gunshot wounds in May, the troubled Westmoreland community was flooded with members of the security forces.

Ahead of the heavy deployment, National Security Minister, Dr Horace Chang, and Commissioner of Police, Major General Antony Anderson, both newly minted at the time, were accompanied to the community by the top brass of both of the police and the army.

The deployment of the police and military personnel was a fulfilment of a promise of swift and decisive action by the security minister and the police commissioner.

"What has happened is extremely disturbing to see. There is a 12-year-old and a two-year-old (among the dead). I can only say we have hit a new low in terms of the brutality of the criminals involved. And as a country, we have to take note of that and act on it," Dr Chang was quoted as saying then.

Houses and shops razed by fire in Grange Hill after criminals wreaked havoc there in May.

Major General Anderson argued that the criminals have no shortage of guns and ammunition "and there is certainly no shortage of will on their part" to use them.

He said "It means that our response has to have equal resolve. We have to be as agile as they are, we will be conducting a lot of operations to deal with this matter."

Lottery scamming was said to have been fuelling the mayhem in the once peaceful, sugarcane-producing community.

But once calm was restored to the area after a few days, there was a withdrawal of the police and soldiers from the community, which was against the local advice on the matter.

Western Westmoreland Member of Parliament, Dr Wykeham McNeill, for example, was livid over the short-lived occupation by the security forces.

Western Westmoreland MP, Dr Wykeham McNeill puts a consoling arm on the shoulder of the mother of one of the victims after gunmen killed seven in Grange Hill.

"What we are insisting on as a community, and me as a Member of Parliament, is that there must be sustained presence of the security forces. We want the resources that they need. We can't have a situation where they don't have a police car or transport. We need all of these things, but it cannot be a short-term," Dr McNeill was reported as saying.

At the time there were even calls from some quarters for a state of emergency to be declared in the wider parish of Westmoreland, where murders continued to trend upwards and guns and gun crimes were prevalent.

Fast forward to last month, when at least four murders were recorded in the Grange Hill community.

On Saturday, July 28, a construction worker/businessman was shot and killed by unknown assailants in the community. The deceased, Dennis Sewell, a tiler of Mint Road in Grange Hill, became the latest murder victim in the community.

Reports are that about 9:15 pm, Sewell and a female companion were walking into a yard, when he was pounced upon and shot by unknown gunmen.

He was rushed to the Savanna-la-Mar Public General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

His female companion managed to escape unharmed.

In addition to the continued and latest killings in the community, the latest incidents were exacerbated by other violent acts, including the firebombing of a six-apartment board house in a separate incident during the same week of Sewell’s killing.

The recent incidents have forcibly brought to the fore the need for additional support for the Morgan's Bridge police station in the Grange Hill community.

Some residents there are of the view that the station is in dire need of additional resources, pointing out that the lone service vehicle is inadequate to patrol the several communities which the station services.

There are also calls by residents for an increase in manpower at the station.

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