In March of this year the government of Saint Lucia denied allegations it was impeding an inquest into the death of Hannah Defoe. Two years ago the 20-year-old cousin of British footballer Jermaine Defoe was electrocuted in the swimming pool of a Vieux Fort hotel. One year afterward the government initiated a one-man inquiry into the incident. But months after the report was completed and handed to the relevant authorities, the case seemed to go cold.
After several related articles and countless calls to phone-in radio programmes by STAR publisher Rick Wayne the government confirmed it had received the result of its inquiry, at which point Wayne started campaigning for the findings to be made public. Deputy prime minister Phillip J. Pierre, whose office had ordered the investigation, finally broke the official silence.
“I wish to clarify the steps taken thus far . . . and to update the public on the status of the report. Immediately after the unfortunate incident, the government launched an inquiry under the chairmanship of Everistus Jn. Marie, to fulfill the obligations under the Electricity and Regulations Act, Cap 9.02. which states that serious accidents must be reported to the Chief Electrical Inspector and that the Minister may order an inquiry.”
Additionally: “This inquiry is complete and the findings have been presented in the form of a report to the British authorities, contrary to what has been suggested. The records of the attorney general’s chambers indicate the report was submitted on October 23, 2013. This is a judicial matter over which the government has no control. It is erroneous to suggest the government is impeding justice or has not fulfilled its responsibility in this case.”
This week the inquiry into Hannah Defoe’s death re-opened in Vieux Fort without a single local press report. Meanwhile the British reported on Wednesday that the inquiry heard from an aunt of the deceased, who had also suffered several electric shocks when she leapt into the pool in an attempt to rescue Hannah. She had to be rushed to hospital.
Giving evidence via a video link at a West London Coroner’s Court, Janet Defoe relived her experience for the purposes of Saint Lucia magistrate Robert Innocent.
She recalled arriving on 24 July 2012, the day before the incident, and staying with her 17-year-old daughter and Hannah at Juliette’s Lodge. Reading from the witness statement she had made in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, Ms Defoe recalled a family friend had rushed to find her and then told her the bad news.
“I ran to the pool and when I got there I saw Hannah’s body stretched out at the bottom of the pool. I jumped into the pool to rescue her. As soon as I jumped in I felt a fuzzy feeling over my whole body.” She said she was able to reach a hand out of the water and someone pulled her from the pool.
“I saw a metal pole on the floor. I took the pole and tried to move her. But when I put the pole inside the pool I got an electric shock. When I put my hand into the water I also got a shock.”
She could not remember who had called the ambulance, only that she was transported to hospital alongside a man who had also tried to rescue her niece, and who had also suffered electric shocks.
Hannah’s mother Hope Defoe also gave evidence via videolink. Although she was not on the island at the time of her daughter’s death, she was nevertheless required to read out her witness statement given when she arrived in Saint Lucia days after her daughter’s death.Overcome with emotion at the memory she wept as she read: “I identified the dead body of my daughter.”
As with several others here, the Defoe inquest has been plagued by delays since it first opened earlier this year.
Since the Vieux Fort incident there have been two other major incidents here involving electrical works at public places. One of them resulted in the death of an individual responsible for the pyrotechnics at last year’s inaugural CPL T20 Cricket at Beausejour. There have since been several public appeals for an official review of the operations of the chief electrical engineer, which fall under Phillip J. Pierre’s ministry, so far to no avail.