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Cop shot by fleeing felons in Ja’s first bank robbery

Sybil E Hibbert

Wednesday, January 15, 2014    

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FOR the dubious distinction of staging Jamaica's first bank robbery, four desperadoes were convicted on nine counts of robbery with aggravation, shooting with intent to murder and wounding with intent to murder in the No 1 Home Circuit Court in October 1971.

The four — Linford Coke aka 'Dungle Lion'; Aston Farquharson; Neville Johnson aka 'Errol Johnson'; and George Flash — were sent to prison, each to be given 15 lashes with the appropriate instrument for the robbery of over $14,000 from the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) at 78 Half-Way-Tree Road, St Andrew, by Justice Ira Rowe.

The prosecution had alleged that on September 18, 1970 the men, armed with guns, held up and robbed the bank, and in the course of their escape one of them shot and wounded Special Constable Cecil Shaw. The service revolver the special constable was carrying at the time was not found after he was shot.

Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Martin Wright; acting Crown Counsel Velma Hylton and acting Crown Counsel Maurice Reckord prosecuted.

Coke, 26, welder of 6 Woodford Street, Kingston 4, who was sentenced to a total of 33 years' imprisonment at hard labour, was defended by attorneys Seymour Stewart and W A Roper; Aston Farquharson, 23, painter of 22 Wavell Avenue, St Andrew, who was sentenced to a total of 15 years' imprisonment, was defended by Roy Taylor and Norma Linton; Neville Johnson, 21, who received a total sentence of 10 years' imprisonment at hard labour, was defended by Messrs Earl DeLisser and Glen Cruickshank; and George Flash, 22, mechanical engineering student of 3 Margaret Villa Road, Kingston 10, who was sentenced to a total of seven years' imprisonment, was defended by Messrs A G Gilman and R G McDonald.

Coke and Farquharson gave sworn evidence denying the Crown's allegations, and Johnson and Flash denied the allegations in unsworn statements from the dock.

Unanimous guilty verdicts

Justice Rowe (dubbed 'Rock Stone' by some attorneys) had summed up to the jury all day on the 17th and final day of the trial, after which the jury retired for 54 minutes. On their return, they returned unanimous verdicts of guilty against each accused in respect of the nine counts of the indictment. Character evidence was given by then Det Sgt Isadore Hibbert.

Coke admitted five previous convictions — three for housebreaking and larceny, one for wounding, and one for shooting with intent.

Farquharson admitted nine previous convictions — one for assault at common law, one for shop breaking and larceny, one for office-breaking and larceny, two for robbery with aggravation, two for driving away motor vehicles without the owners' consent and one for the larceny of a bicycle. Johnson admitted three previous convictions — one for assaulting a female, one for assault occasioning bodily harm, and one for unlawful possession of a Honda motor cycle. Flash admitted one previous conviction for driving away a motor vehicle without the owner's consent. This conviction was recorded in the Traffic Court in May 1970 and he was placed on probation for one year.

Before the sentences were imposed, Attorney Roper asked on behalf of his client Coke that the judge "not condemn him to moral death". Taylor for Farquharson, said he intended to test the verdict elsewhere, but in the meantime he left the fate of the accused to the judge. DeLisser asked for mercy for Johnson, pointing to his age and urged that he be given the opportunity when he comes out of prison to do his duty by his young family — two small children, the younger of whom was just over a year old. Gilman, for Flash, referred to the fact that Flash was the product of a broken home, and said that in the judge's hands rested the power to give another chance to someone who could possibly rehabilitate himself.

Addressing the convicted men, the judge said that before he passed sentence, although what he had to say might have no effect, he was hoping it would.

The judge said that the robbery was carefully planned, and added that the robbers, from the evidence, had expressed great annoyance when Eli Stasyk, the manager of the bank, was not able to open the vault. He said it had been suggested by some of the defence counsels that the manager and his staff had deliberately fabricated records so that they could use them to convict innocent people.

Judge tells police: 'Be strong! Be fearless!'

"The jury, by their verdict, has rejected these suggestions of gross dishonesty and impropriety on the part of the manager and staff of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce," the judge said. And to the police investigators whom some defence counsel had sought to "sully their reputations" by their suggestions, he told them: "Be strong! Be fearless!"

In the course of this most colourful trial, the judge and jury heard testimony from Stasyk and several bank tellers that about 4:10 pm while the bank was still doing business, five men armed with guns entered. A sixth gunman stood outside on the patio.

One of the five who went inside jumped over a counter at the northern end of the building. A second man jumped over another counter on the eastern side. The other three spread themselves out in the outside space where customers attended to business.

At that stage, the court heard, the gangsters ordered customers and tellers to keep their hands in the air. The manager, who was in his office, told the court that having heard the commotion, he came out to find that it was a hold-up.

With guns trained on them and with the man outside as lookout, the employees and customers had no alternative but to obey the order, the manager said. One of the gunmen grabbed a large pan and ordered a teller to throw all the money in it. The teller threw what money was at her section over the counter into the pan.

Another gunman told him (the manager) to open the safe and give him all the money in it. But the manager reported that he told the gunman he could not open the safe. The gangster was not pleased.

The men then went to work and cleaned out all the money in the drawers. With guns still trained on everybody they came from behind the counter, joined their colleagues on the outside, and backed out of the bank. The bank did not at that time, employ a guard, he told the court.

The court also heard evidence from police witnesses that shortly after a report was made to the Half-Way-Tree Police Station about the bank robbery, a team of detectives, among them Detective Inspector L V Spaulding, arrived at the bank. They were joined shortly after by Senior Superintendent Richard Levy, in charge of crime; Deputy Supt Reuben Robertson, a team from the Flying Squad and CID personnel from HWT Police Station, including Det Sgt Hibbert.

Hibbert, who later took charge of the investigations, was to spend a total of five days in the witness box, three of them under cross-examination, testifying in the case. His notes are recorded hereunder:

From the journal of ACP Isadore 'Dick' Hibbert

"The first bank robbery in the history of Jamaica took place at the Canadian Bank of Commerce, 78 Half-Way-Tree Road, in the parish of St Andrew on Friday, September 18, 1970. The robbery made the headlines in the various news media. The Jamaica Constabulary Force was alarmed and deeply concerned about this brazen commando-style robbery within the town square.

At approximately minutes past 4:00 pm on that Friday afternoon, six young men, armed with hand and shot guns, dressed in military fatigue, marched into the bank.

The banks at that time were considered to be one of the safest places in Jamaica.

It appeared then that a band of young, intelligent criminals decided to put into practice what they had learnt from the movies. So on the day of the robbery, just about near closing time, the six young men dressed in commando-style fatigue clothing, brandishing shot guns and hand guns, marched into the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, and commanded customers and tellers of the bank -- "No one move! Get down on the floor and lie on your belly!"

Everyone was stunned and obeyed for fear of their lives. Three of the robbers/gun slingers jumped over the counter filling bags with whatever cash they came upon while the leader and two others kept vigil on the public section of the bank. The manager, a Canadian, Mr Eli Stasyk, was locked in the vault.

Within five to 10 minutes, the operation was successfully carried out. The bandits left the bank with several bags filled with cash — all notes — and headed towards a waiting car parked a little distance from the bank along the Half-Way-Tree Road.

Cop shot by fleeing robbers

They were surprised to see Special Constable Cecil Shaw who was on the way to the said bank, escorting a female employee of the Revenue Department to make a lodgement of the revenue collected for the day. The special constable was unaware of the robbery and the culprits were under the impression that he was coming to investigate. The leader of the escaping felons -- Linford Coke, aka 'Dungle Lion' -- intercepted the special constable and shot him at point blank range with the shotgun. The victim fell to the ground, unconscious and bleeding profusely.

The female whom the special constable had been escorting, fled the scene and the robbers escaped in a waiting motor car with thousands of dollars. Of major significance was the fact that the culprits had escaped with money, most of which was money regarded in banking circles as "decoy money", that is, money the serial numbers of which are recorded.

I was part of a team of investigators who commenced intensive investigations into the robbery and shooting of the special constable.

The first breakthrough came when I received a tip/information that a group of young men were at the Government Health Centre on Slipe Pen Road trying to obtain vaccination certificates for the purpose of travelling to another Caribbean island.

In a jiffy, I was at the health centre with my team. Three suspects were held, all with "decoy money". The suspects were taken to the Half-Way-Tree CID for interrogation.

One of the suspects — Aston Farquharson — told me during the interrogation exercise that he would like to "urinate". I escorted him to the men's room. He used the occasion as a ploy to speak to me confidentially.

There, he told me the names of the other persons involved in the bank robbery and further that they would be at the Norman Manley International Airport by that time preparing to leave the island by BWIA flight.

This information was most helpful. So I caused a number of senior detectives, including the late DCP Reuben Robertson, Deputy Supt at the time, to proceed with despatch to the airport to capture the suspects. That resulted in the detention of Linford Coke and Neville Johnson, just as they were in the act of boarding a BWIA flight. Each suspect was in possession of large sums of money.

Continuing our investigations, a series of searches were carried out at the homes of each suspect, resulting in the recovery of more money from the suspects. The serial numbers of the money found in possession of the suspects matched the serial numbers of the decoy money. Identification parades were arranged for each suspect. They were positively identified by bank personnel.

Before proceeding further, I am forced to return to the conduct of the female employee of the collectorate, who paid scant regard to the fallen special constable, her protector. I experienced great difficulty in getting a statement from her or for her to attend the identification parade.

Before the ID parades were held, strict instructions were given at the lock-ups that the suspects were not to be exposed or allowed any visitors, save and except their attorneys. A plan had seemingly been devised by the suspects, with the assistance of outside help, to defeat the success of the ID parades by having them appear in the No 1 HWT Resident Magistrate's Court, under the names of other prisoners in custody.

Attorney forced to withdraw from case

The court was not yet in session. I saw the accused Farquharson in conversation with a particular attorney. I heard the attorney telling Farquharson to "keep quiet as their appearance in court today will nullify the identification parade". But then Farquharson recognised me entering the court, and said to his attorney: "See Detective Hibbert coming."

The attorney then remarked to me: "Detective Hibbert, I hope you will remember seeing these men in court before the holding of the ID parades" to which I responded: "I will also remember what you told the accused men."

Quick investigations disclosed that a conspiracy was being hatched with other prisoners in custody to use their identity by answering to their names when the prisoners were being assembled to be taken before the court. A check of the police lock-ups identified those who were impersonated, thus destroying the plan to nullify the parades. The attorney in question had to withdraw from the proceedings. The identification parades were conducted as scheduled.

Following a preliminary enquiry in the Half-Way-Tree Resident Magistrate's Court subsequently, the four accused were committed to stand trial in the Home Circuit Court in Kingston.

After a long process of jury empanelling the trial got off to a brisk start before the late Mr Justice Ira Rowe, with the prosecution headed by the late Deputy DPP Martin Wright. Of the defence team, Messrs Roy Taylor, Seymour Stewart and Amador Gilman have passed.

The prosecution led evidence firstly from bank personnel, majority of whom were young and not accustomed to the courtroom atmosphere. They were rigorously cross-examined by the defence team and one of them in particular, who was near to breaking point, after being re-assured that she had nothing to fear stood up to cross-examination creditably. On leaving the witness box, so satisfied was she with her performance that she hugged me and remarked: "Mr Hibbert, I am going to study law. I am going to become a lawyer."

That young lady who shall remain nameless, left the bank shortly thereafter to pursue her dream. Today, she runs a successful law practice in the USA and has the opportunity of cross-examining witnesses, such as she was being cross-examined then.

Now to the police witnesses. I was the first to be called to the stand, being the lead investigator. I spent three full days in the witness box giving evidence-in-chief covering the entire investigations. I was well aware that in a case of that nature I would be rigorously cross-examined by the defence, bearing in mind the number of exhibits involved; where, when and in whose possession they were found, as well as statements made by each of the accused. It was imperative that I made a record in my official note book of all the events at the appropriate times.

I refreshed my memory from such notes whenever I was uncertain of the answers to a certain line of questioning. This, of course, was with the court's permission. After two days of cross-examination, I left the witness box exhausted but triumphant.

Cop nearly throws case

The next police witness was then Deputy Supt Reuben Robertson, a very experienced and competent witness. He was unshaken by the defence and the Crown's case was on a sound foundation. The court adjourned at 4:00 pm that day. Det Inspector L V Spaulding was to begin his evidence the following morning. That evening I spoke to him as to whether his note-book had been updated, in view of the expected severe testing by the defence. He told me not to worry; his notes were in order, he said.

The following morning Spaulding, when called to the witness stand, contrary to the custom whereby the prosecutor, after the witness is sworn, leads the witness as to the testimony required, Spaulding started off on a frolic of his own. He began to give evidence on a matter totally unconnected with the case before the court. The judge, prosecutor and jury looked on in amazement as he rambled along. The prosecutor tried desperately to stop him but he continued. The judge finally was able to stop the witness thus: "Just a minute, inspector! Where are you going?" (This after gavelling several times). "You seem to be giving evidence about another case."

The inspector then pulled himself together and apologised to the court.

The defence team was delighted with Spaulding's fumbling and made heavy weather of it while the prosecutor tried his best to correct the flaw by guiding back the witness to the evidence along the lines he gave at the preliminary enquiry.

Special Constable Shaw gave evidence that while proceeding to the Canadian Imperial Bank that afternoon, escorting the female employee from the Revenue Office, he saw the six accused hurrying in his direction. Coke rushed across the road, stuck a sawn-off shotgun in his side and fired. He was hospitalised for several weeks. A large portion of his liver had to be surgically removed but he survived and later worked for many years in the Supreme Court Library.

The Crown then led evidence from the sergeant who conducted the various identification parades with respect to the identification of each accused by the various witnesses and took testimony from customers in the bank at the time. At the end of cross-examination by the defence team, the Crown closed its case.

In closing addresses to the jury by the defence, it was submitted that the only truthful prosecution witness was Det Inspector Spaulding, whom it will be recalled, had gone completely off track. It was suggested that I had been seen frequently in company with witnesses from the bank and had been acting in complicity with the witnesses.

The jury was out for 54 minutes following a very detailed summing-up by Justice Rowe, then returned with unanimous verdicts of guilty against all accused as charged.

Appeals failed. Coke who received the longest sentence, argued his own appeal before a panel presided over by the late Justice Fox, acting as president in the local Court of Appeal.

One of the suspects held at the health centre when we carried out a raid there following the robbery, a motor mechanic from St Thomas, who was said to have been the driver of the getaway car, ended up testifying for the prosecution and totally nullified the case for the defence.

Rehabilitation and death in prison

So impressed was Justice Fox with Coke's presentation of his own case, the judge remarked before Coke was led away by the police the day of the appeal hearing, that it was unfortunate that he had used his talents the wrong way. His Lordship recommended that while in prison the Correctional Services Dept grant him time to further his education at CAST, now UTech.

Coke made the best use of the opportunity. He subsequently passed nine GCE subjects at A levels, with distinction and credit. He later became a teacher at the Correctional Services Training School. He was regarded as a model prisoner and was released from prison much earlier due to his good conduct and assistance during his incarceration. Coke continued to teach inmates at the Correctional Services Dept after his release. However, he was shot dead by unknown assailants, shortly after, thereby cutting short his efforts to further rehabilitate himself and rehabilitate other prisoners.

Farquharson was killed by fellow prisoners during an uprising at the General Penitentiary shortly before he was to begin serving his sentence. Flash died years later, reportedly, the result of a motor vehicle accident.

Next week: Jamaica's second bank robbery at the Bank of Montreal, Constant Spring Road ends in conviction of Glenford Blair and Cecil Gibson in 1973

Sybil E Hibbert is a veteran journalist and retired court reporting specialist. She is also the wife of Retired ACP Isadore 'Dick' Hibbert, rated among the top Jamaican detectives of his time. Send comments to allend@jamaicaobserver.com

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