One year might have passed since hurricane Irma wreaked havoc on the Territory, but the memory of the 7 September is as fresh as if it were yesterday. Therefore, there is no surprise that promises to bring the looters that added to the destruction to justice remains. In fact, fresh promise was made by Attorney General General Baba Aziz during opening of the 2018-2019 law year on Tuesday 18 September.
The Attorney General told the gathering of legal professionals that legislation will be brought to ensure that the heartless looters face penalties for their actions to deal with such incidences in the future.
Aziz said, “On September 8, while we were still coming to grips with the devastation around us, certain criminals added to the losses and ruin by embarking on open looting of the shops which had suffered damages.”
In noting that legislation will be coming, the AG said: “We have already prepared the legislation enhancing punishment for those who loot and for those who take advantage of disasters…In the coming months, it is my belief that this legislation will be introduced in the House of Assembly.”
The situation of looting is still on the mind of Premier and Minister for Finance Dr. the Hon. D. Orlando Smith as well; he recently mentioned the need to see all looters brought to justice at the opening for the new Magistrate’s Court building in John’s Hole.
Hon. Smith said, “After the hurricane, we had some looting and subsequent to that we had some disorderly behaviour in the Territory…Even though the police is active, justice has to be served in a courthouse to deal with those persons that had been apprehended, so to speak, by the police. And so, since our Magistrate’s Court was not working, it is important that we had a place to do that.”
Dealing with looters is especially important to Commissioner of Police Michael Matthews who announced that the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force is still pursuing looters who took advantage of the damages caused by hurricane Irma last September.
While speaking in Standing Finance Committee the Commissioner stated that while some arrests have taken place efforts to identify looters are ongoing.
The lootings that occurred in the aftermath of the devastating Irma affected many businesses in the community and the police was called upon to make an example of those who took advantage of a bad situation. According to rumors some angel-face looters left the Territory several months ago.
Commissioner Matthews told legislators that up to that time 15 individuals were charged with looting offences in respect of four separate offences. In providing a breakdown of the arrests the Commissioner said that seven persons were charged in relation to one looting incident, three in relation to another, two in relation to another and another three in relation to another instance.
Matthews said that more arrests are coming because the force continues to work through video footage and photographs to identify other offenders.
The pursuit of looters commenced since September 2017. In fact, back in November as the Commissioner expressed his disappointment that criminals looted following the storm he pointed out that looting is perpetrated by a very small percent of the people living in the BVI.
“Sadly looting as it is commonly known where people took it upon themselves to break into homes and businesses and help themselves, something that I was pretty disappointed to say the least that people here resorted to that at a time when the Territory was on its knees and people had suffered tremendously people took advantage of that situation,” he said.
Now he said that the Police Force is exercising no tolerance for looters and policemen are busy arresting persons who were caught in the act via photos and videos: “We’ve been successful we’ve made arrests and I made the unusual step of publishing details of people that we have arrested and charged and putting their photographs out for the media to see and I think that’s important.”
The Commissioner lauded the efforts of the community in sharing photos and videos of looters. “I did an appeal sometime back and we’ve been overwhelmed with the amount that has come in and our intelligence team are working very long hours to piece together exactly what has happened and we are identifying a lot of people, so further arrests I anticipate will be made,” he said.