ST JOHN’S, Antigua – The court case against the Antigua Labour Party (ALP) members who held the ‘Mega March’ in 2011 resumed yesterday, with Commissioner of Police Vere Browne testifying that the ALP’s application for its march to proceed up High Street was denied in the interest of public safety.
Opposition Leader and head of the ALP Lester Bird; St Peter Member of Parliament Asot Michael; Parliamentary Representative for St John’s City West and Deputy Political Leader and Chairman of the Antigua Labour Party (ALP) Gaston Browne; ALP St Paul’s representative Paul “Chet” Greene; General Secretary for the party Mary-Claire Hurst; and ALP executive member Carlton Lake are charged jointly for inciting, organising and taking part in a march in contravention of the Public Order Act.
The six ALP members are alleged to have incited persons to take part in a march in contravention of a permit dated February 11, 2011, granted on behalf of the ALP by Commissioner Browne. The march was held on March 10, 2011, and moved off from Michael’s Mount.
Allegations are that the ALP applied to the police commissioner to stage the demonstration and the designated route was agreed to and approved by Browne. It is alleged that during the cavalcade, demonstrators
took a different course from what was approved by the top cop. The six ALP members have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Commissioner Browne said yesterday that his decision was pursuant to section 12 sub section 2 of the Public Order Act, which gives him the authority to alter the specifications of any application for a public march.
He told the court that his office received an application from the ALP dated February 8, 2011, to stage the march on Thursday, March 10, 2011.
The commissioner said that the correspondence, which appeared to be signed by Mary-Claire Hurst, listed the date, route and time the procession would commence.
The party had asked for a 4:30 pm move-off time, but Browne said he approved a 5:30 pm start time.
“In my response, I made it pellucidly clear that the route will be altered by powers vested in me by section 12 -2 of the Public Order Act. And the time will be changed from 4:30 to 5:30 pm. I also indicated in that response that the route was altered from Newgate Street as applied for to go up Long Street,” Browne testified.
The commissioner of police said he received a subsequent application requesting a change of the approved route. He said the ALP did not wish for the marchers to proceed up Long Street, but instead wanted to go up High Street.
Browne said he responded in a letter dated February 18, 2011, denying the request. He said later that day he received a phone call from someone identifying herself as Mary-Claire Hurst who wanted to find out the status of the application.
Browne said that person was told in no uncertain terms that the route applied for was denied.
Under cross-examination by attorney John Fuller, Browne maintained that he denied the ALP’s request to go up High Street for the preservation of public order and public safety.
According to Browne the procession could not have gone up Newgate Street as first requested or High Street because of the volume of passengers in St John’s because of the cruise ships in the port at that time, and the number of vehicles (taxis) which might have been operating on the road at that time, making road traffic management chaotic.
Browne disagreed with Fuller that at that time in the afternoon most cruise passengers would have already left the country and the shops in town would have been closed. The commissioner said that his decision was also based on intelligence he had at that time.
The case has been adjourned to August 27 and 28 when the prosecution should wrap up its case.
Meantime, Chief Magistrate Joanne Walsh has placed a stop order at the airport for Senator Paul “Chet” Greene.
Greene was set to leave the island yesterday at 2 pm, the same time the trial should have commenced. After Walsh got word of Greene’s intentions, orders were sent to the airport not to allow him to leave the country.
Greene was chastised by the magistrate before the case commenced and his attorney will have to make the proper application to the court before the order is lifted.
(More in today’s Daily OBSERVER)