It was a game-changing murderous assault on everything the nation considered holy. In the middle of a service at the Castries cathedral, worshippers as well as church leaders were bludgeoned with various weapons, doused with gasoline and set on fire. A nun and a priest lost their lives. Others were permanently disfigured, not to say psychically rewired. The country was traumatized. No surprise the incident drew worldwide media attention.
Meanwhile there was the local press that gave credence to every report, whether from reliable eyewitnesses or known characters of ill-reput. But by far the most shocking was the on-camera account supplied by the day’s prime minister—an account that in several important areas conflicted with police reports.
The date: December 31, 2000—New Year’s Eve. No surprise that lawyers representing defendants Kim John and Francis Phillip filed court motions stating their clients had been deprived of their right to a fair trial before an independent and impartial tribunal as guaranteed under Section 8 of the Saint Lucia Constitution Order, 1978.
It is worth noting that while state-funded lawyers for John and Philip based their claim on “the pre-trial publicity in the local media,” they did not cite the prime minister’s comments, transmitted by TV outlets at home and abroad—an omission that speaks volumes about local justice.
Perhaps his demonstrated lack of good judgment at the time of the attack on the cathedral were on the legal mind of Prime Minister Kenny Anthony as he delivered his rebuttal near the close of the two-day Budget debate that ended on Friday evening.
Referencing Scripture perhaps devilishly quoted by an opposition MP, the prime minister—besides citing his own verses from the Good Book—dramatically declared that such was his enduring respect for religious rituals, he had made a point, even at funerals, to resist all temptation to shake hands or to issue statements. If memory serves, he had broken his own rule at a Babonneau church send-off of Kenneth John.
The young MP had futilely sacrificed himself in a heroic effort to save a mother and child from drowning in the notorious cross currents at Grand Anse Beach in 1998—but that’s for another inquiry. As I recall, not only had the prime minister spoken at the forgotten hero’s funeral, but he had certainly cried a river for the surrounding news cameras!
In all events, Friday evening’s performance was Oscar-worthy, keeping in mind the Cathedral matter. (Let’s resist the temptation to split pig hairs in defense of the indefensible!) After all, Kenny Anthony was (to paraphrase Macbeth) at the crime scene in double trust. No, in treble trust. Come to that, there was a fourth trust.
In the first and second places, he was both an upstanding citizen and a Christian, both strong against the deed; both free to comment, yes, but only truthfully.
As for the third trust: as the nation’s prime minister and chief lawmaker, he was duty-bound not to play down or exaggerate the facts—especially with microphones and cameras in his face.
As for the fourth trust, he was a lawyer and had to have known the possible impact his publicized statements about the bloody incident might have on a jury, if not judges.
But there’s more. There are the recorded words of the clearly touched prime minister as he spoke his always heartfelt piece at Oliver Gobat’s memorial—in advance of any official statement that the human remains pulled out of a burned-out wreck almost four weeks ago had been identified as Gobat’s.
On the occasion, our chief lawmaker, his voice cracking in all the right places, not only confirmed the body was Oliver Gobat’s, but he went on to say he had known “Theo” for such a very long time and though he did not have such words as would comfort him and his family, he did have “one little nugget of comfort.”
He assured the aggrieved that “good progress is being made in the investigation of this heinous crime.” He could say no more, he went on, “and I know you’ll understand why I can say no more. But deep in my heart, I do believe [isn’t that line from ‘We Shall Overcome?’] that it will be solved. I leave you with that comfort; that thought.”
He brushed his eye before continuing: “Lastly [organ sound] I end where I started, to thank the family for their poise, for their dignity, for their character, for their grace, for their honor, their strength and their courage.”
I need not remind readers of other similarly heinous crimes that never drew the special attention of the prime minister, at any rate to such a degree that he would make related pronouncements more appropriately delivered by the police.
Just last week, a woman was attacked by persons unknown in the center of Castries, with such brutality that her blood covered a large section of a nearby sidewalk.Revealingly, although parliament was at the time in session, not a related word was heard from a single parliamentarian—including the politicians in bras.