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Vaz says enough

After 27 years MP addresses Dianne Smith murder rumours

Sunday, March 31, 2013    

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FROM the grave of an innocent schoolgirl, on this Easter Sunday, comes a cry for justice against those responsible for the spilling of her blood.

But Dianne Smith cries from the after-life, not just for herself, for she knows that there is one other whose innocence has also been stolen and whose crucifixion was equally undeserved.

For 27 years, Daryl Wesley Vaz has been locked up in a prison of pain and hurt, dogged through every phase of his life by the nastiest of orchestrated rumours that, among other things, he raped and murdered Smith, a student of the Immaculate Conception High School.

Smith was on her way to school along Old Stony Hill Road on May 4, 1983 when she was raped, stabbed, strangled and her body dumped in a gully.

In a sense, Dianne Smith’s misery is over. Her lithe 14-year-old body, battered and bruised and robbed of life, is forever beyond the pale of human cruelty.

But for Daryl Vaz the misery lingers on. And it is never more painful than when he must admit to himself that — forget opponents, political and otherwise — even among party colleagues, with whom he must eat, drink and share political thought, this dreadful treachery is perpetrated. No doubt for personal and political agendas.

Yet, he draws deep consolation from a reassuring call from then Opposition Leader Michael Manley in 1986 who, “speaking as a father myself”, condemned the graffiti and accusation hurled from a political campaign at Birdsucker Lane, Barbican, St Andrew.

“He called first my father (Douglas Vaz) and then me to apologise. I have always accepted that apology as genuine and not as if he were calling to accept his party’s responsibility,” said Vaz, his face now a mask of gratitude and emotion.

Vaz is not the first and is unlikely to be the last to be wrongly accused of a crime he did not commit. The question that might never be answered is why was he targeted in the first place.

The accusation first surfaced in 1986, three years after the murder. His name never came up during the intense police investigations that followed, neither was it mentioned even once in the 1984 court trial of the two men accused of the murder.

“There is absolutely no evidence to connect him (Vaz) to the case,” said Retired Assistant Commissioner of Police Isadore ‘Dick’ Hibbert, the top detective who helped to lead the investigations 30 years ago.

“In fact, his name was never called at any time during the intense investigations started in 1983 and I am very puzzled as to why he was subsequently associated with this murder,” Hibbert told the Sunday Observer. “Whenever we were investigating a case, we looked into everything, including rumours, to find leads. The name Daryl Vaz just didn't come up at all.”

Convinced that he could not be his own best defender, Vaz has carried the burden, maintained silence, toughing it out but always knowing that it could not be easy for his wife, children, other family members and close friends.

In a 2009 interview on the hustings, his obviously inlove wife, Ann-Marie Vaz, told a newspaper reporter that politics had damaged their marriage.

“It’s been exhausting for me as a wife and mother. To see what my husband has been through to prove his passion for the constituency has been emotionally draining,” she told writer Howard Campbell. “I never wanted anything to do with politics. It caused a lot of damage to our marriage initially.

“…I’ve always known of his persona and things that people said. Those are things I won’t get into,” she added.

Friends and supporters of the West Portland member of parliament have started to ask Vaz why has he broken his silence now and are questioning the motive for the resurgence of the rumour. Why not let this terrible thing remain in the grave where it belongs?

“Even Nelson Mandela got justice after 27 years. It’s my time now,” Vaz insisted.

The issue resurrected itself last week in a rather innocuous way, in a popular weekly feature titled ‘Crimes that rocked the nation’, written for the Sunday Observer by Sybil Hibbert, the veteran journalist and Jamaica’s greatest court reporter. She is also the wife of Retired ACP Hibbert, himself rated among the island’s top detectives of his time and, importantly, who investigated the Dianne Smith rape/murder case.

Mrs Hibbert, now in her 70s, and whose name is highly respected in the legal fraternity here, wrote: “Before dealing with the evidence that unfolded before the Home Circuit Court in this case, let me state categorically that the rumour noised abroad about the politician (Daryl Vaz), now member of parliament, being connected with, or having anything to do with this murder, is absolutely untrue.

“Apart from the fact that this politician’s name was never mentioned in the proceedings, my husband Isadore Hibbert, was one of the detectives investigating this murder. The most thorough police investigations revealed no such connections; he was early on the scene and confirms this. Besides, after spending 40 years and seven months in the Jamaica Constabulary Force, he retired with an unblemished record after acting as (high as) deputy commissioner in charge of crime for two years…”

If Vaz had wanted to maintain his silence, he could no longer. The article brought out his enemies, some internal and external, he said. In a spate of cruel e-mails ignoring the facts as stated by the lead investigator, they again accused him of the murder.

One of the e-mail authors who has been most persistent and uses the pseudonym “Anecia Brown” wrote: “All members of Jamaica media who know of the connection of Daryl Vaz to Dianne Smith murder please contact City Desk at 306-657-6442 or 306-657-6258.”

The e-mail was sent to all the media houses and individuals including Abe Dabdoub; A Creary; A J Nicholson, the foreign minister; Peter Bunting, the national security minister; and Mark Golding, justice minister.

The phone numbers when called by media houses turned out to be those of a Canadian newspaper, The Saskatoon StarPhoenix.

Responding to the Sunday Observer’s query about the e-mail, Managing Editor Heather Persson said: “No such person (Anecia Brown) works for The Saskatoon StarPhoenix and the newsroom had nothing to do with that e-mail.”

Vaz, as he has always done in face of adversity, pledged to do everything to find the truth, even after 27 years, and unmask the authors of the emails and bring them to justice, not just for himself but for others who have suffered similar attacks upon their reputation.

If there is any doubt about his seriousness, one only has to recall that he has an unrelated case in a Florida court in which he accused Jamaican-born Miami attorney David Rowe of being behind an e-mail which libelled him, former prime ministers P J Patterson and Bruce Golding, Christopher Tufton and Gordon ‘Butch'’ Stewart, among others. Rowe denied the allegations.

Born on December 15, 1963, Daryl Wesley Philip Vaz is a man of destiny. He has had to prove himself every step of the way and be ready to roll with the punches. It’s what he’s now very good at and what he’s done all his controversial life.

One of his most painful bouts has been the dual citizenship debacle against the PNP’s Abe Dabdoub, who dragged him before the courts trying to unseat him from the West Portland constituency on grounds that by being a United States citizen, Vaz couldn’t constitutionally sit in the Jamaican Parliament.

In the ensuing by-election ordered by Chief Justice Zaila McCalla, Vaz not only won but increased his victory margin.

Vaz is one of those men who were to the political manor born. His famous father, Douglas Vaz, was a minister in a previous JLP Administration before he fell in with the so-called Gang of Five and out with the then JLP leader Edward Seaga over Seaga’s perceived autocratic leadership style. Daddy later followed Bruce Golding into the National Democratic Movement (NDM), lost his first election and subsequently hung up his political gloves.

When Douglas Vaz joined Golding in the NDM, Daryl followed suit. He also ditched the NDM when Golding did in 2002 to rejoin the JLP.

Vaz stamped his authority on electioneering when, under his stewardship, the JLP scored a 5-4 victory in the 2003 local government polls in traditionally PNP Portland. He went on to enter Gordon House after trouncing Dabdoub in West Portland in the September 3, 2007 general election in which he was credited with being one of the leaders of the team of young Turks who carried Golding to victory.

As prime minister, Golding rewarded Vaz with the position of minister of state in the Office of the Prime Minister and put his talent for getting things done to work in project implementation and service delivery. When Golding reshuffled his Cabinet in 2009, he made Vaz a full minister without portfolio with responsibility for project implementation and service delivery.

Importantly, he also gave him the onerous task of minister of information and telecommunication and special projects in the Office of the Prime Minister.

“I have tried over the last several years to prove who the real Daryl Vaz is, as a result of all the rumours, innuendoes and propaganda that have been spread about me,” he told the Sunday Observer in a previous interview.

Those rumours, innuendoes and propaganda coincided with the time he got his first taste of representational politics, running successfully as councillor in the Waterloo Division of his old man’s North Central St Andrew constituency in 1986. Specifically, it was then that the rape/murder rumours surfaced.

“It came up in a graffiti at Birdsucker Lane saying Daryl Vaz raped and killed Dianne Smith,” the politician recalled. “Within a matter of hours, Michael Manley called my father and then me. He said: ‘I am calling as a father myself to apologise and to tell you that I have given the (PNP) leadership in the constituency one hour to buy paint and paint out all graffiti.’

“He never said that it was the PNP who did it,” said Vaz. “It was just the decency of the man.

“Ironically, at the time the murder was committed, I was residing/attending school at the Miami-Dade Community College in Florida. I returned to Jamaica after the incident, with my now ex-wife to live in Jamaica.

“This innuendo has been used against me since 1986 and it has been used in various scenarios. In fact, even when I launched the Citizens for Civil Society, a letter was written to the commissioner of police containing the allegations.

“For 27 years it has been used against me, thankfully unsuccessfully, to assassinate my character. It has been used in all of my elections, internal and otherwise. I have never responded to it, simply because nothing I can say will make a difference to those cowards who wish to perpetrate these baseless, slanderous rumours,” said Vaz.

“I cannot be my own defender in this matter, but I am happy and relieved that this rumour has finally been independently responded to by credible persons, knowing that my heart is pure and my conscience is clear. I have had no choice as a young man but to use this adversity to strengthen me and my family, to overcome this cruelty of human nature, and I have done so,” he said.

“A lesser man than me would be in either the mad house or the crack house, but in life I turn adversity into opportunity. I have been vindicated by the most important people and that is the people of Jamaica who keep electing me.

“Despite this adversity, I have won four elections. I am 4 and 0 from St Andrew to Portland between 1986 and 2011. And these were two different types of elections. The Waterloo divisional polls, at the height of the rumours perpetrated by a handful of political goons, was in an Upper St Andrew middle class enclave. From there it was in the deep rural hills and valleys of Portland.”

Vaz said that in the last three national opinion polls he had been named among the top five politicians in Jamaica. In the 2009 by-election, he created five political records, including polling the highest number of votes of any candidate in West Portland and winning by the highest majority ever.

“I have been able to live my true love in service to my country and my people and be vindicated by my success at it. I have also been successful in business, despite the ups and downs, using my name and my face, instead of hiding, to become one of the most well known personalities in this country,” he said.

Vaz saw significance in the fact that some minibus operators had been telling police he was the owner of their vehicles when they were accosted. They clearly believed that he enjoyed such respect and his name could help them. But he had been forced to place a notice in the two daily newspapers on March 24, 2013, notifying the public that:

“It has come to attention that individuals in the public passenger transportation sector have been falsely identifying themselves as being employed by me. I hereby clearly state that I neither own, operate, have any interest or involvement in the public passenger transportation sector (taxis, buses, minibuses, motorbikes). Kindly be so advised and report any such claims to the relevant authorities.”

Vaz said he could not think of any successful national figure in Jamaica who have not had to sustain and undergo some of the most terrible rumours and innuendos.

“There is always a residual of negatives about successful people and I have undergone this. As one who has suffered more than most, I appeal to our nation not to indulge in this unkindness which can destroy people’s lives. Not everyone will be as strong as I am and will have the faith that has always carried me through,” he said.

Vaz suggested that he was being attacked because of his assertive personality and reputation as a straight-talker in politics. But he took consolation in the view that “Jamaican people don’t stone fluxy mango”.

“I am a victim of my success, even from as a young man. My opponents of all types have seen and feared my leadership abilities. It is not entirely surprising that these rumours have continued. Dianne Smith is one that has stuck. They have said everything about me at one stage or another.”

In one of his rare attempts at a response, Vaz in 1999 had his attorney Howard S Mitchell write then Police Commissioner Francis Forbes pressing him to “initiate private investigations to determine the perpetrators of certain defamatory statements published against our client… in a pamphlet distributed at a press conference” at a St Andrew hotel.

The letter also asked the commissioner to ascertain whether Vaz had ever been the subject of an official police investigation in regard to the maters raised in the pamphlet.

“I would be a liar if I said it has not affected me at times,” Vaz admitted to the Sunday Observer. “But who I am really sorry for is my family, my kids. No matter what they show on the outside, I know it’s something that preys on the mind. They have borne the suffering and the relentless orchestrated smear campaign with me, and for their sakes, I say after 27 years, enough is enough!”

He said that with the issue now again out in the open, it was exposed to the current generation, “the generation of my children, including my 10-year-old daughter”, who would not have been around when it first emerged. For their sakes, too, he felt forced to address the matter.

“They have only heard one side of the orchestrated campaign,” he said. “I want people to be able to get the facts. But it is important to underline that this is not necessarily coming from any party but from individuals within the parties, including the JLP.

“I enjoy very good relationships with some members of the ruling PNP. In fact, I am godfather to the son of a member of the Cabinet whom I prefer not to name to insulate him from any of the attacks on me,” he said.

Vaz, however, made it clear he would continue to fight to serve his country. Having spoken, he will now put this rumour behind him. “I serve notice that I will go as far as I can, wherever the road takes me and as far as the people want me to. I hold no venom or hatred. I forgive my detractors for they know not what they do and there is no better time to give forgiveness than on this holy Easter Sunday,” he said philosophically.

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