No stone will be left unturned

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Queen’s Councel Jerome Lynch, new chairman for the commission of enquiry into the Paria diving tragedy, speaks to the media at the Southern Academy for the Performing Arts, San Fernando on Thursday. – Marvin Hamilton

The newly-appointed chairman of the commission of enquiry into the Paria diving tragedy says no stone will be left unturned in the quest to find out how Kazim Jeremiah Ali, Yusuf Henry, Fyzal Kurban and Rishi Nagassar died on February 25.

Queen’s Counsel Jerome Lynch, during a news conference on Thursday at the Southern Academy for the Performing Arts (SAPA), San Fernando, said the commission’s job was to find the facts and not to comment on speculation about things which are allegedly connected to the tragedy. The commission will also not comment on things which could or could not affect its work.

Lynch is a senior litigator at Trott and Duncan in Bermuda, and a QC at Cloisters Chambers in London. He was sworn in on Wednesday by President Paula-Mae Weekes replacing Sir Dennis Morrison who resigned last month citing personal reasons. He joins local subsea specialist Gregory Wilson.

Accompanied by lead counsel to the commission, Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, SC, Lynch spoke directly to the families of the dead men.

“It is wholly uncontroversial to say it would not have been an easy death for those four men, and it should not have happened.”

He said the commission will identify whether there was negligent conduct, misconduct, or criminal conduct before, during or after the tragedy.

Lynch said it was not the commission’s job to “ascribe specific liability to any individual or entity.

“We will identify the facts and say whether that gives rise to reporting the matter to any other authority for further investigation.”

He said the commission will also make recommendations to minimise the risk of similar events happening in the future.

The public, he said, will have access to the hearings.

“We will ensure that it (enquiry) is available online to you.”

Lynch said documents and evidence before the commission could be accessed by the public.

At the end of the enquiry, the commission will submit its report to Weekes.

Lynch said the commission has a six-month timeframe from the date of its first public hearing to complete its report.

Maharaj said Paria, the Coast Guard and LMCS Ltd (the employer of the four divers) are among those who the commission would seek evidence, statements, and documents from.

Letters will be sent to these individuals and entities within the next seven to ten days. Maharaj said they would be required to respond either electronically or in-person at the commission’s secretariat at SAPA.

“They would then be invited to be interviewed by the commission and witness statements would be prepared for them. They (the statements) would be signed by them, and they would be called to give evidence at the public hearings.”

Under the Commission of Enquiry Act, the Paria commission has the power to summon witnesses to give evidence under oath. These witnesses can also be cross-examined by attorneys for other parties appearing before the commission.

Maharaj said enquiry witnesses must obey the commission’s summons which are like subpoenas issued by the High Court to witnesses. Section 12 of the act states that people who fail to heed a summons from a CoE are liable to a fine of $2,000.

Maharaj said, “We do not believe there would be occasions for witnesses who are subpoenaed not to comply with their subpoenas.”

Public notices will also be issued to invite other people who may have relevant evidence to submit it to the commission. Maharaj said these people will be interviewed by the commission’s legal team to determine whether their evidence is relevant to the commission’s terms of reference.

The commission will hold its procedural hearing on September 7 at the Port of Spain International Waterfront Centre. The date for the start of the public hearings will be announced at a later date.

Maharaj reiterated that the commission did not lapse when Morrison resigned, and has been diligently doing its work since April 22.

Ali, Henry, Kurban and Nagassar were working on a 30-inch-diameter subsea pipeline, belonging to the Paria Trading Company at Pointe-a-Pierre, when they were sucked into the line.

The commission was appointed on April 22 with Dennis Morrison QC as its chairman/commissioner and local subsea specialist Gregory Wilson as a commissioner. Morrison resigned last month for personal reasons. He was replaced by Lynch who was sworn in by President Paula-Mae Weekes on Wednesday.

Referring to events that transpired since February 25, Lynch said, “I am aware there have been criticisms of individuals, companies, ministers, even the government (about the tragedy).” He also referred to criticisms against the commission since April 22.

“I am aware that there have been criticisms of unwarranted delay and failure of process.” Lynch said there were questions from the media about the tragedy and the operations of the commission.

“That’s your (media) job. That’s not my job.”

Lynch said, “I start this enquiry from today, now, with an open mind and a determination to be fair, impartial and objective.”

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