Talk up!

MONTEGO BAY, St James — As part of a strategy to reduce the number of murders being committed in the country, Prime Minister Andrew Holness says his Government will be making legislative changes to put more pressure on those who know a crime has been committed but fail to report it, as required by law.

“There is a common law principle in our jurisprudence; it’s called misprision of a felony: someone who knows that a crime has been committed, someone who has knowledge. It doesn’t mean that they participate in the crime. It doesn’t mean that they aided and abetted or gave any support, or were a part of any common design to commit the crime. But they have come into knowledge; they know,” he said on Thursday, during a visit to Chetwood Memorial School in St James.

“They are under a duty under our existing law to come forward. It is an offence under common law [and] several of our recent cases have been prosecuted using this common law provision. And we intend to utilise this much more in our pursuit to bring this terrible beast of murders under control,” Holness told academic staff who are still mourning Monday evening’s brutal murder of two of its students — seven-year-old Justin Perry and nine-year-old Nahcoliva Smith — by a gunman who fired bullets into a taxi in which the boys were travelling.

Police say that 26-year-old Tevin Hayle, who was also in the taxi and was shot dead, was the target of the attack. He had been asked to report to the police as they carried out investigations into previous murders in Salt Spring.

On Thursday, Holness laid partial blame for the deaths of the boys at the feet of residents of their Salt Spring community who failed to speak up when they saw Hayle in the area.

“He obviously felt protected by this ecosystem of crime, that no one would have said anything. He felt so protected that he could hide, in open view… But somebody knew and did nothing. The result of that is that two innocent children were taken away,” said Holness.

He promised changes to the existing laws as a way to get rid of entrenched norms where people do not speak out for fear of reprisal.

“We are going to make some changes to make misprision of felony a substantial provision in the laws that we have — whether it is going to be in the Offences Against the Person or the Firearms Act or the Anti-gun Legislation. The legal drafts people will tell us how to do it,” Holness vowed.

His expectation is that these measures will give law enforcers the information needed to break the back of crimes such as Monday’s triple murder.

“I have given a directive to all the security apparatus, they must find the perpetrator; they must find him. He thinks he is safe; we are going to find him. But we are also going to find the people who supported him, who knew, and bring you all to justice. Enough is enough. So all of the gang wars that are going on and all the people who claim that they are dons, we’re going to slowly dismantle the ecosystems that protect you,” said the prime minister.

He added that the focus on getting more people to speak out will be coupled with measures already being used to fight crime, as well as others that will be coming on-stream. He pointed to increased penalties and new offences under the Firearms Act as an effort to get illegal weapons out of the hands of those who become addicted to, and are empowered by, guns.

“We are going to be making further amendments to the Firearms Act, and in the coming days the public will see that even stronger measures are going to be applied on the illegal use and possession of firearms,” said the prime minister.

“Being an accessory to the crime keeps the ecosystem of protection around the criminal. So we’re going to be targeting the criminal, definitely; tougher penalties for the possession of weapons, the means to commit the crime, tougher penalties for committing the actual crime with increasing the penalties in the Offences Against the Person Act, particularly for capital murder,” he added.

He also tackled, head-on, the long-standing culture that brands as “informers”, people who speak out about wrongs.

“The truth is that you know holding your mouth is not going to guarantee the security of your life or the life of your children. It is because you have held your mouth why this is happening. And until we start to utilise the secure channels of communications that have been established, either for reward or because you’re a good citizen, tell us what you know,” the prime minister urged.

“Because, as we increase the sophistication of our investigative capacity, we are not only going to pinpoint the criminal, we are going to start to pinpoint the people who knew. I want to make that absolutely clear: that if we’re going to really bring to heel the beast of crime that is loose on our land, the ecosystems that protect the criminal must also be dismantled,” he added.