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Probe continues into Silma Thomas’ death

Probe continues into Silma Thomas’ death


by Taranjah Yaw Tue Mar 25, 2014

The saga sorrounding the death of North Leeward resident Silma ‘Codo’ Thomas, following a police search of her home, continues with an independent investigation, an on-line public petition calling for justice, and the family disputing certain claims made by the authorities.{{more}}

The 49-year-old Thomas of Sharpes Village, Chateaubelair, died at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital just over 24 hours after she collapsed while police conducted the search of her home on 27 February.

Her death attracted national attention and sparked debate about the police conduct on the day.

Area representative Roland ‘Patel’ Matthews called for an inquiry into the circumstances of Silma’s death and Commissioner of Police (COP) Charles promised that an enquiry would be held.

A candlelight march and vigil, organized to protest the circumstances of Thomas’ passing, was held on the Friday before her burial and attracted about 400 persons, including children and the elderly. Luke James, a former classmate of Thomas when they attended the Petit Bordel Secondary School (PBSS), was one of the organizers of the event.

James, a sergeant in the US Army, also created a facebook page “JUSTICE FOR CODO,” which, up to press time, had over 600 likes. James appeared on Nice Radio last Saturday, encouraging persons to sign a petition for an independent investigation into Thomas’ passing. The document, circulated in hard copy and on-line with a photograph of Thomas, is headlined: “Petition on behalf of the late Silma ‘Codo” Thomas. In our quest for justice for the late Silma ‘Codo’ Thomas, we humbly ask that you sign thus petition for an independent investigation into her passing. Thanks for your support and we encourage you to follow us on facebook on the Justice for Codo Page.”

Meanwhile, the Chateaubelair police told SEARCHLIGHT that they were happy that the march and vigil were very peaceful with no security issues, even as they were on high alert.

“They stuck to their time and agenda and everything went smoothly and everybody is happy at the end of the day and that’s our job,” Inspector Haywood said.

The event was coordinated locally by Vanessa Browne, who told SEARCHLIGHT that she was pleased by the turnout, despite the short time and limited publicity. “We sent a strong message, thanks to all who came and supported, in solidarity with Codo,” she stated.

Thomas’ funeral also attracted widespread attention and attendance at the St Bethel Spiritual Baptist Church, where she was a long-time worshipper and choir member.

In attendance were Spiritual Baptists from throughout the country, as Thomas, along with her younger sister Almida, who is also the church’s organist, had travelled all over St Vincent and the Grenadines as members of the St Bethel Spiritual Baptist Church choir, performing at harvests and other events. Commissioner of Police Michael Charles was in attendance in uniform.

Charles addressed the congregation, expressing condolences to the family and indicating his connections and Chateaubelair roots.

Charles said that one would hear all kinds of things, but only God knows what really happened.

“Last Friday, I received a letter from the North Leeward area representative asking for a thorough investigation into the circumstances, but even before I received that letter I knew that there must be an investigation into the circumstances of the death of our dear sister,” Charles said, before ending by pitching “Hallelujah Square,” in which the congregation joined.

As the funeral procession headed to the cemetery, the baby blue casket containing Thomas was taken out of the hearse and carried military style by relatives and friends. The procession also paused for about five minutes for the upbeat funeral marches by the Rose Bank folk band. Many residents agreed that the procession was one of the largest in Chateaubelair’s history.

Retired former CID boss Willisford Caesar has been seen several times in the area and has indicated that he is conducting an independent inquiry into the circumstances leading up to Thomas’ collapse and death.

Caesar has so far made three trips to Chateaubelair, interviewing family members and eyewitnesses to events on the day of the search.

SEARCHLIGHT has learnt that the Prime Minister’s office is taking a keen interest in the situation.

The family is consulting with lawyer Kay Bacchus to help safeguard their interests in the matter.

SEARCHLIGHT understands that Bacchus and Caesar have already met at her chambers in Kingstown.

Almida Howe-Chance told SEARCHLIGHT that her sister’s death is the final piece in what she describes as a pattern of harassment and discrimination by the police.

She said that as recently as three weeks before her sister’s death, her own home, five lots away on the opposite side of the road, was searched by the same squad with a similar warrant. Almida said that the harassment started just after elections in 2010, when her home and her husband’s place of business, along with nine other homes of friends and acquaintances were searched in one morning; after that, her home was routinely searched, according to Almida.

Thomas’s survivors are meanwhile disputing claims that they refused the police offer of their vehicle to take her to the hospital. Thomas’ younger brother Chris, who helped carry her to the vehicle which took her to the hospital, is adamant that the police did not offer their vehicle to take his stricken sister to the hospital, as they claim.

“Can you imagine I don’t have a vehicle and would refuse a vehicle right on the spot in a life and death situation? The whole village was there when we begged the police to take Codo to the hospital and they did nothing, but asked me if I was a doctor,” Chris said.

The former soldier in the British Army, who also did a tour of duty in war-torn Afghanistan, told SEARCHLIGHT that his sister may have been in the house ill for more than 15 minutes and that they would like to know what went on during that time.

Eyewitnesses and other family members, including Bazil Medica who drove Thomas to the hospital, also dispute the police claim that their offer of transport was refused.

Bazil said that he had to borrow the vehicle which took Thomas to the hospital, wasting time, while the police had a bigger and better vehicle, parked just above the road. Medica also did a stint in the British Army.

“Now…they conducting inquiries; the PM was in the area the day after Codo died; he passed right above her house and below where I live. They could carry out all the inquiries and investigations they want, we will cooperate with them; everybody must cooperate with them, because this is a big family and the community is behind us; we all want the truth. Codo done dead and gone, but the truth is alive and well and we have to find it,” Almida said.