“When the opportunity arises, even in a very small way, to take steps to correct past injustices, we must.
“It is never too late to do the right thing and I believe we are doing so in this case,” said Col Burch.
He noted that a portion of the Railway Trail was leased to the private trust in June 1998 for 21 years to provide private access to the beach.
Ultimately, that grant “effectively blocked” public access to the beach, since it cannot be accessed without traversing private land.
Colonel Burch told MPs today that the lease expires tonight and that it will not be renewed.
In the interim, he said the Ministry will engage in talks with the current land owners to “gauge their interest in selling it”.
Barring that he stated outright that the Government would pursue ownership under the terms of the Acquisition of Land Act 1970.
The Minister also noted that Gibbet Island “is a beautiful island off the Railway Trail” with a beach that was “not accessible to the general public by land” up to now, that “one can see its wonderful tiny beaches from the North Shore Road”.
“Gibbet Island also is unfortunately known as the ‘Gallows Island’ due to its dark history.
“There, in the 1600s and early 1700s executions were held in full public view. That was a time when slavery was highly prevalent in Bermuda.A pole still seen there is sometimes wrongly identified as being part of the gallows,” he said.
“It is actually an earlier version of a navigation light for passing ships.
“One of the more prominent executions held there was in 1681 when a slave named Indian John from New England was executed. He apparently tried to escape, lit the owner’s house on fire and wanted to kill all members of his family.
“After his execution, his body was left hanging from the gallows for days after. Such a gruesome practice of a public display of executed bodies was meant to serve as a warning to other slaves who contemplated rebelling or escaping,” he added.
“From our research – the name ‘Police Beach’ is derived from a 1977 agreement between the Bermuda Police Force (as it was then known) and the private landowner to allow policemen almost exclusive access to the beach.
“In practical terms – that meant white policemen only. That agreement formally ended in 1992.
“Gibbet Island is now part of the African Diaspora Heritage Trail and bears the dark historical marks of slavery in these islands. The Railway Trail in Smith’s Parish passes through this area and into the Flatts Inlet,” said the Minister.
“There used to be a railway bridge there that the train used to reach Shelly Bay and beyond – plans are afoot to replace it.
“With that background of both the Trail and the Beach I have decided to take a number of actions.