Wednesday, 30 May 2012 10:45
By caribarena news
Antigua St John's - Commissioner of Police Vere Browne has denied that the decision he made not to grant the Antigua Labour Party (ALP) the route they wanted was an irrational judgement.
Browne was testifying on Tuesday in the incitement case in which Opposition Leader Lester Bird, Party Chairman Gaston Browne, St. Peters MP Asot Michael, ALP General Secretary Mary Claire Hurst, Executive Member Carlton Lake and St. Pauls candidate Paul “Chet” Greene are charged with breaching the Public Order Act.
The six ALP members are jointly charged with inciting, organising and taking part in a public march on March 10 2011 in contravention of the Act - offences for which they have pleaded not guilty.
Browne said his decision not to grant the High Street route was taken in the interest of public safety and of preserving the peace.
He said he was concerned with the volume of traffic that would be on the road at that time seeing that it was a tourist day and cruise ships were docked in port.
Browne testified that he made it clear to the ALP, via letter and phone, that the route they requested had been turned down and that the procession instead should proceed up Long Street. Initially, he said, the ALP wanted the Newgate Street route and later requested to journey up High Street.
“I received a next application again; it was the name Mary Claire Hurst signed at the end of it and it was dated February 15, 2011. That application requested a change of route. And the application stated the route starting from Michael’s Mount, on to Queen Elizabeth Highway, left on Camacho’s Avenue, right on Vivian Richards Street, right on Market Street, left down Redcliffe Street, then right on Thames Street, right on to High Street,proceed up High Street, Independence Drive, up Factory Road, right onto Parliament Drive, then end at Rising Sun Grounds where they will address the marchers.
“I responded to the application on February 18, 2011, and I told them that the application for the new route was denied. On that application I wrote the crux of my response so my secretary can type it. Later that day, I received a phone call from a person identifying themselves as Mary Claire Hurst. She asked if I received the application and what was the status,” Browne said.
He continued, “I got a copy of the response and read it to her on the phone and told her the application for change of route was denied, and she must refer to the first response dated February 11, 2011, which set out the terms and conditions under which the march will be permitted or allowed… I highlighted certain sections of the Public Order Act running from 31 to 36 which speaks to offences which can be committed and sanctions… On February 21, 2011, I received a next application with a signature above the name Mary Claire Hurst seeking a change of time.
That time was from 4:30 pm to 11 am. I denied the time change under the powers vested in me under the Public Order Act section 12 sub-section 2.This was denied in the interest of public order and safety.”
Browne told the court that he personally went on ZDK on the day of the march and highlighted the route for the general public.
The commissioner said that after the riot squad was called in during the march after it diverted from the prescribedroute, Browne and Hurst were called to his office. He said they were accompanied by three lawyers - Vere Bird Jr., Vere Bird III and Gail Christian.
“They (Hurst and Browne) were cautioned and asked to justify why they did not conform and as a result the present charges were laid before this court,” the commissioner told the court.
Browne said he was unaware that Hurst received his final correspondence notifying the party of the new route until after the march. He said that while the letter was sent out, he could not confirm whether she received it.
Browne disagreed with a suggestion by attorney John Fuller that most traffic would be out of the city at that time the march would have made its way into town.
When Fuller told him that his action was arbitrary and without basis on fact, the head of the force replied that he had exercised his authority reasonably.
The case resumes on August 27 and continues on the 28 at 2pm.
Bird, Browne, Michael, Hurst, Lake and Greene, along with other persons who took part in the march, allegedly diverted from the authorized route of Long Street and travelled up High Street in contravention of a permit granted by the Commissioner of Police.
The ALP members were charged and summoned to answer to the charges.