Holness ‘surprised’ at gang presence in St Elizabeth
Prime Minister Andrew Holness says he is very surprised that even in rural parts of Jamaica the criminal element is entrenching itself.

SCHOOLFIELD, St Elizabeth — Following months of terror being unleashed by gangsters in deep-rural sections of St Elizabeth, Prime Minister Andrew Holness on Friday expressed shock that the criminal elements are being established in sections of this traditionally low-crime south-central parish.

“Right now believe it or not, there is a gang terrorising this area. On my way here we stopped and spoke to the police, [and] I am always happy to be moving around in the country and getting a chance to get the local reports. I was very surprised that even in these remote parts, these rural parts of Jamaica, the criminal element is entrenching itself,” he said while addressing the handing over of a house under the social housing programme in Schoolfield (south of Santa Cruz) in St Elizabeth.

Statistics from the Jamaica Constabulary Force show that murders, shootings, robberies and reported cases of rape have increased since the start of this year when compared to the corresponding period last year (January 1 to May 23).

Among the murders are three incidents which police say are linked to the Speculation Gang based in western St Elizabeth.

The police theorise that poker boxes are the main target of criminals.

Criminals broke into a bar in the Hampton area of traditionally low-crime neighbouring community of Malvern, atop the Santa Cruz Mountains, in the early hours of Wednesday, April 13.

The criminals also allegedly stole assorted expensive liquor and musical equipment, and reportedly raped the bartender who was staying on the premises.

Worst was to follow, as the fleeing, heavily armed criminals who found their escape plans disrupted as daylight broke, shot dead two residents — construction worker, 37-year-old Mickel James, and 51 year-old farmer Courtney Smith.

James was said to have been among a group of angry people chasing the hoodlums, while Smith, who was headed for his farm presumably unaware of danger, was apparently mistaken by his killers as one of their pursuers.

With the assistance of residents, police later cornered the alleged getaway vehicle and held the driver, 37 year-old farmer Carlos Beckford of Brompton, western St Elizabeth.

Beckford was reportedly intercepted on a little-used road which links Malvern to Mountainside and other Pedro Plains communities, close to Ivor Cottage, which is about two miles down slope from Malvern.

A remote, blissfully quiet farming community, Ivor Cottage clings to the southern slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains, just above the farm-rich Pedro Plains, which rolls away to the Caribbean Sea and St Elizabeth’s capital Black River several miles away.

In the Spring Park community near Black River, there has also been terror with the police identifying the Speculation Gang behind the killings.

The most recent incident on May 21 was the murder of 30-year-old Chadwick Whyte, a resident and labourer of Spring Park.

Whyte was shot dead by gunmen travelling on a motorcycle.

Head of the St Elizabeth police Superintendent Dwight Daley said Whyte was on bail for charges of murder, illegal possession of firearm and assault at common law.

The police chief added that Whyte was warned to leave Spring Park.

“Based on police intelligence he was advised to leave his community as he was marked for death by members of the Speculation Gang. He, however, returned to the community — without the knowledge of the police – and whilst there he was killed,” added Daley.

On May 13 five people were shot — two fatally and three injured — at a bar in Spring Park.

Holness said the Government is focused on improving people’s social conditions to deter criminal behaviour.

“We can never ignore that outside of greed and just a criminal mind, the criminal element is also fuelled by social conditions,” he said.

“So as much as we can do to improve social conditions, so that it will remove the impetus for criminal behaviour, we will do it,” he added.

Kasey Williams

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