“A regrettable lack of co-operation has deprived the people of Bermuda of the full truth of what led to the events of that terrible day”, said Premier David Burt tonight, in response to the Report of the Parliamentary Joint Select Committee Examining the Events of the December 2nd 2016 incident at the House of Assembly.)
In a statement released this evening (Sunday, July 7) Mr Burt continued: “It is disturbing to learn that the Police who we rely upon to enforce the laws of the land disregarded the law and failed to appear before the Committee.
“The Report speaks to serious differences in reported accounts of that day which could only be resolved by the Police giving testimony like so many others did.
“The shocking sub-text of the Report describes a Government out of touch with the people, deliberately isolated from the advice of senior civil servants and engaged in clandestine discussions which seem to have led to these events. As the Report says: ‘It was the reaction by the decision-makers to the protest which resulted in the disastrous events of the day.’
“This is a bipartisan Report and the Government is considering the recommendations made by the Committee. The Chairman and the Committee Members deserve our thanks for the work they completed in difficult circumstances,” he added.
The 146-page report was tabled in the House on Friday, July 5 by Progressive Labour Party backbencher Kim Swan on the December 2, 2016 airport demonstration outside the House of Assembly.
The special report by the parliamentary Joint Select Committee (JSC) found that police officers were apparently ordered to: “Captor now, all of them, all of them”.
This after the investigation by the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) said the pepper spray had been used by officers “only when they properly believed that it was necessary” and that no order was given to use it.
But the PCA found that the officers were guided by “use of force policy and the JSC report said they had “astonishingly” discovered the order during a review of video footage taken from an officer’s body camera.
According to the report, that finding by the PCA was “untrue” and on the video, the officer could be heard saying: “Get out of the way or you will be sprayed.”
The officer was also heard telling his colleagues: “If you’re going to use Captor, Captor one at a time.” And another officer was heard later giving the order – “No more Captor spray.”
“The findings of the Police Complaints Authority must be nullified, as it is based on a totally erroneous premise,” the report said.
“The committee’s discovery is conclusive that the use of Captor was the result of a clear directive to officers at the southern gate to the House of Assembly.”
The report also stated that pepper spray was used against protesters in a bid to clear the gates at the House of Assembly despite the fact that then Speaker of the House, Randy Horton, had already decided that the House would not sit at 1pm.
The former Speaker’s “indecisive” actions on that fateful day came under heavy fire in the report, in light of the fact that at first, Mr Horton said that the House would not sit that day if MPs were not present by 10am.
But only Mr Horton and One Bermuda Alliance MP Sylvan Richards were inside Sessions House by the deadline because other legislators had been kept out by protesters. And Mr Horton changed his mind later that morning, which the report said put senior police officers “under pressure, to react in haste”.
On that note, the report said the former One Bermuda Alliance Government “must accept some responsibility”, for influencing Mr Horton to change his mind from having the airport redevelopment legislation debated at 1pm “thereby contributing to the climate of confusion”.
Members of the Progressive Labour Party, then in Opposition, were present among the demonstrators, and the report said that “would have been seen as a validation of the protests”.
Highlighting the “shortcomings” by both political parties, the report said there should be a comprehensive code of conduct to govern the behaviour of MPs in a clash described as Bermuda’s worst civil unrest in decades.
An undisclosed settlement, said to be in the region of $225,000 was agreed to with complainants who considered taking legal action against the PCA.
Moving forward, the JSC recommended that police should be trained in “de-escalation versus escalation techniques”.
Meanwhile, a police spokesperson said the Bermuda Police Service is currently reviewing the 146-page report.
No further comment was released as of Sunday evening.