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A retired cop's endless pain

Still no word from Government almost one year after ex-crime fighter highlights his plight

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

Sunday, March 16, 2014    

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A retired policeman continues to endure pain and suffering, close to one year after his plight was highlighted by the Jamaica Observer.

Former corporal of police Astley Smith, who was knocked down by a police patrol car as he rode his motorbike on duty in the eastern parish of St Thomas in 1979, and subsequently paid $315 monthly in compensation, is continuing his journey of pain and suffering, and has been literally left on his own by the constabulary.

Smith, now 63, was hit off the bike when the patrol car driver decided to overtake a queue of vehicles along the Pondside main road near Yallahs in the western section of the parish.

He suffered multiple injuries to the foot, all bones were broken on his right wrist, and he lost total use of his right hand.

A damaged right eye, from which he has since lost vision, injury to his nerves, his left hand and shoulder, among other sections of his body, were also part of the pain package.

All told, Smith spent six months at the University Hospital of the West Indies where he underwent a total of nine surgeries during the early period of his suffering.

But since the Sunday Observer told the story, the Jamaica Constabulary Force has made no headway in correcting what legal analysts believe was a crucial wrong committed.

"I don't hear anything up to now," Smith told the Sunday Observer in an interview last week.

"I was told that my file is being dealt with," Smith said.

"But whilst the grass is growing, the horse is starving," Smith added.

Retired Commissioner of Police Lucius Thomas, who is handling welfare matters for police personnel at the Ministry of National Security, could not be reached for an update, as numerous calls from the Sunday Observer to his cellular phone during last week went unanswered.

Thomas had personally said last year that he would spearhead efforts to explore the possibility of arranging a better financial deal for Smith.

"We are trying to help him. Some representation has been made and we are in touch with the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Labour and Social Security to see what can be done for him," Thomas said last April.

But things are getting rougher, economically, for the former uniformed government worker who vowed to protect and serve.

"I was visited by personnel from the Anti-corruption Branch of the police force, to see if I need anything, but that was from May of last year. Since then I have heard nothing," he revealed.

In the interview last April, Smith told a story of severe pain, with little relief in sight.

"It has been severe pain and suffering without any relief up to now. Nothing helps me ... no painkiller ... nothing. The pain includes burning, a shooting pain and a crushing pain. If it rains, there is a shooting pain, if it gets warm there is a crushing pain. For the past 34 years, I have not had a moment of relaxation. If someone comes up behind me and frightens me, I feel pain. If I start reading I feel pain," Smith said last year.

He has since made several visits to The Pain Centre in St Andrew, in a last-ditch effort to have the pain kept in check, but mounting expenses have pushed him further against the wall.

"I have spent over $70,000 at The Pain Centre to continue the treatment, but I have now run out of funds.

"One doctor recommended that I amputate my right hand, but I don't know as yet," he said.

Smith had sued the Government of Jamaica a little over a year after the accident, only to be informed that he had missed the deadline to file the lawsuit by mere weeks, based upon the law at the time which allowed for suits to be filed up to one year after an incident.

"There was little that I could do to file the lawsuit earlier as I was hospitalised and an outpatient, and could not walk for over a year after the accident," he said.

With a lawsuit no longer a possibility, Smith opted to remain in the force, which he served for a further 26 years.

Having applied for and granted early retirement, Smith applied to the Government for compensation for loss of use of the right hand, pain and suffering, and after going through a trip of paperwork and red tape, he ended with the princely sum of $3,786.67 annually or $315 monthly in compensation, which the State said was based upon his salary at the time of the accident, which was approximately $5,000 per annum.

Appeals to the public defender's office, former Prime Minister Bruce Golding and then Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller did not meet with success.

The former allround cricketer for the St Thomas police team is now involved in a monumental fight to stay afloat.

"I have no savings and the little that I get for my pension cannot do. I have no one to take care of me, because my family does not stick around because of my disability. I really need help. I would like to be granted some form of gratuity," Smith told the Sunday Observer.

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