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A COACH'S GANJA PAIN

Was Derrick 'Pretty Boy' Edwards set up with drug found in his luggage?

BY HG HELPS
Editor-at-Large
helpsh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, April 01, 2018

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INVESTIGATIONS by the Jamaica Observer have so far shown that at least one of the accused men charged with trafficking in ganja last week, might have been set up.

Assistant coach (not national coach as others have stated) of the Antigua & Barbuda national football team Derrick Edwards, 49, popularly known as “Pretty Boy” in his native land, along with equipment coordinator Danny Benjamin, were arrested and charged as they and members of the football squad prepared to leave the Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston last Monday, following what many considered the positive result of a 1-1 draw against the much higher-rated Jamaica national team, better known as the Reggae Boyz.

Both were taken into custody by the police, as the remaining members of the touring squad left Jamaica's shores, questioned, and by Wednesday they were charged with possession of ganja, dealing in ganja, taking steps to export ganja, and conspiracy. On Thursday, Parish Judge Vaughn Smith refused Benjamin bail on the basis of a statement by the investigating officer that he had been seen on a surveillance camera at the team's hotel in the room that stored the travelling bags of team members, and had even packed what appeared to be clothes in one of them.

The judge, however, granted bail to Edwards, a prolific former star forward for SAP Football Club in the Antigua Premier Division when he played from the 1980s, and went on to represent the Antigua national team from 1988 to 2003. He has been allowed to stay with officials of the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) during the time of his bail, and, like Benjamin, will be back in court on Tuesday, April 10.

Information reaching the Sunday Observer suggests that Edwards was bewildered that his luggage was found to contain the drug in two rectangular packages, said to weigh a shade under four pounds, as he was, over the years, not known to be involved in either smoking or selling of ganja or any other substance, including tobacco, inside or outside of the tiny Eastern Caribbean island.

Word later emerged that the drug belonged to someone else in the squad, who has since flown back to Antigua. Officials in that country have told the Sunday Observer that they are aware of who the drug belonged to and were conducting further investigations in respect of the individual.

“I don't know anything about the involvement of Danny (Benjamin) and I just cannot comment on that because I don't know the man, but I know for sure that 'Pretty Boy' is innocent,” said a high-ranking member of the Antigua & Barbuda football fraternity. “I won't swear for everybody, but I know that Pretty Boy is not one that would get mixed up in those things. He is a clean and decent man who has represented his country over the years with distinction and I know too well that at this stage in his life he would never go and mess up himself like this,” the official said.

Another popular Antiguan also deeply involved in sport in that country told the Sunday Observer that the wrong man was fingered. “I am willing to bet that none of the two men charged was directly involved in the matter of packing ganja into the bags, but I know even more about Derrick Edwards — our Pretty Boy — who you would not even associate with those things. There are strong rumours in Antigua today that the man who put the ganja into Edwards' bag is now back in Antigua pretending that he knows nothing about what's going on, but the truth will emerge,” the Antigua man said.

Edwards, who also played as a defender in the latter part of his football years, represented Antigua in 10 World Cup qualifying matches. In his glory years at SAP FC, located in his native Bolans village, he wore the number 4, which his fans said meant: Four — Bound to score. He joined Antigua's national coaching staff in 2006, after stints as manager/coach at SAP and Old Road Football Club which he led to the Premier Division title in the 2011-2012 season, and at the time of the Jamaica trip he was serving under head coach 'Dibbo' Williams, a former coach of local team Parham FC.

Judge Smith offered Edwards bail in the sum of $200,000 and his, along with Benjamin's fingerprints were ordered taken by the police. Their travel documents also remained in the safekeeping of the State.

No information was had about the involvement of Benjamin, 48, who is a cousin of former Antigua, Leeward Islands and West Indies cricketer Winston Benjamin.

Winston Benjamin, a talented allround cricketer of the 1980s into the 1990s, also played football for Antigua. He was sent home in disgrace during the West Indies cricket tour of England in 1995 on disciplinary ground, after he had reported to the team management that he could not play in a warm-up match at Oxford University, and was replaced in the team for that match against the Combined Universities, but was later seen playing football with a group of children a short distance away. Team manager Wes Hall, coach and fellow Antigua Andy Roberts, captain Richie Richardson, in consultation with other officials of the West Indies took the decision to expel Benjamin from the squad, thus becoming the second West Indies cricketer to be so disciplined, following action against Jamaican fast bowler Roy Gilchrist from the West Indies tour of India in 1958-1959 for intimidatory bowling and insubordination, as suggested by team captain Gerry Alexander and vice captain J K Holt, both Jamaicans.

There is hope in Antigua that both men will be set free and return to their substantive duties. But in Edwards' home village of Bolans there is an even more open cry for the man who people claim to be innocent to be let loose.

“Anybody else but Pretty Boy. He not involved in them things. Everybody here can swear for that man. As Antiguans we would like to know that all goes well for our people, and while I don't know the other man, I think a wicked act would be meted out to Pretty Boy if they convicted him,” the resident told the Sunday Observer on Good Friday.

Benjamin is from the community of Jennings.

The drug which investigators said was detected when a bag containing it was scanned by airport luggage x-ray equipment, was said to have a street value of between J$14,000 and $17,000, depending on who is selling.

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