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Norman Mc Lean paid scant attention to GDF Sergeant implicated in Walter Rodney’s death

Former Chief-of-Staff, Retired Major General Norman Mc Lean in a tense and defiant mood while under cross examination by Barbadian lawyer for the Rodney family, Andrew Pilgrim

Amid concerns by lawyers about the absence of key documents from the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) at the Walter Rodney Commission of Inquiry, Retired Chief-of-Staff Brigadier Norman Mc Lean on Thursday admitted that the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) had infiltrated the army but he had paid little attention to Sergeant Gregory Smith who has been implicated in the bomb-blast death of the historian and politician 34 years ago.

Under cross examination by lawyer for the Rodney family, Andrew Pilgrim; the former army officer said the police force had been liaising with Colonel  Mc Pherson and Major Lewis because of the alleged involvement of Sergeant Gregory Smith in Rodney’s death.  Mc Lean said he did not know whether Mc Pherson and Lewis had cooperated with the police in their probe. He added that he did not have any discussion with those officers or received any report from them on the progress of their assistance to the police.

Mc Lean, during his evidence-in-chief, told the inquiry that initially he had informed the media in 1980 that no one by the name of Gregory Smith had been a GDF member but on receipt of the regulation number 4141, he had confirmed that there was a William Gregory Smith who had deserted the GDF.

The former officer said at no time did he enquire about the desertion of Smith and that he had no responsibility to the people of Guyana to do so.

Against the background that Smith had allegedly provided the bomb-in-walkie-talkie that killed Rodney on June 13,1980, the retired Major General conceded that the death of the WPA co-founder was a significant matter. At the same time, Mc Lean said he did not think that he should have followed up on the progress of the investigations about someone who was a former member under his command.

Mc Lean, at one point became very upset and raised his voice at Attorney Pilgrin when he was pressed on whether he accepted that if Smith was involved in Rodney’s death “in the circumstances that we understand them to be that you had a responsibility to investigate that.  “I don’t share your view,”  Mc Lean stated  to which the lawyer reacted “don’t get vexed, don’t get vexed.”

Put to Mc Lean that he did not take any interest in the matter and did nothing, he said “No”. Pilgrim: “Did you deliberately turn a blind eye to this investigation and its circumstances? Mc Lean: “No, Sir”.

The former Chief of Staff said he did not know that Smith had been flying around in a GDF aircraft. He said he would not have been surprised that other officers in the GDF might have been taking political directives such as those dealing with the movement of aircraft. “There may have been somebody giving instructions about which I knew nothing about,” he said.

Mc Lean added that the Head of the Air Corps was responsible for the deployment and dispatch of aircraft and he did not have to report to him on any upcoming missions. He said the central management committee met once monthly with the various heads.

In light of a statement by former GDF pilot, Gerry Gouveia that he had flown Smith to Kwakwani aboard an army plane bearing registration number, 8R-GER,  Mc Lean said he would have expected the now prominent businessman to tell him. Questioned by Inquiry Commissioner, Jacqueline Samuels-Brown, he said a plane bearing that registration number was probably an army aircraft. He said the police never shared any information with him that they had collected statements that an aircraft with that number had landed at Kwakwani on June 17,1980 and a number of men had exited and asked for Smith.

Mc Lean said he only last week was told by Gouveia that he was expected to testify about flying “the plane” but no other details were provided.

Mc Lean said he never tried to ascertain why Smith had deserted the GDF and never asked for his personal file even after the incident. After stating that he did not know that Smith was an active member of the military on June 14,1980; Commission Counsel Glenn Hanoman showed him a copied section of the payroll that recorded a salary payment for May 1980. Mc Lean challenged the authenticity of the document and charged that it was merely a “cut and paste.”  “I am not challenging the veracity of the document. I would like to see the document in its entirety if you want to ask me something about the original,” he said.

At that point, Peoples National Congress Reform (PNCR) lawyer, Basil Williams interjected and called the document a “bald” one. He urged Hanoman to tender the original documents and verify that the photocopy was made from the book. The Commission’s lawyer assured that “ we are undertaking to bring the person who provided this big book.”

He also said the signature on form dated June 24,1979 for the transfer of weapons to the House of Israel did not appear to be that of Godwin Mc Pherson and it should be verified by a handwriting expert.

Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) lawyer, Selwyn Pieters appealed to the Commission to ensure that there was fairness to the witness because of the absence of GDF records. “It seems we are operating in a vacuum here. The Commission should have requested those records and have them here. This is a matter of fairness… Questions are being asked and the documents are not being provided. There is a particular serious concern about fairness,” he said.

Commission Chairman, Sir Richard said subpoenas should have been issued to the current Chief of Staff, Brigadier Mark Phillips to have him produce the relevant documents.  Echoing Commissioner Samuels-Browne,  Attorney-at-Law Latchmie Rahamat said the GDF’s cooperation has been ongoing. “I just wish to state for the record that the Guyana Defence Force has been cooperating with the Secretariat. They have been providing us with documents…It would be inaccurate to say that we have not been receiving cooperation from the Guyana Defence Force,” said the Commission’s lawyer.

Mc Lean would return to the witness box  when the relevant documents are provided by the GDF.

The former army boss said he would be concerned about the movement of arms and ammunition to organizations outside the GDF such as the House of Israel. They included G3 rifles, G3 bayonets, Browning pistols, 7.62 MM rounds ad 9 MM rounds.

He denied that the GDF had been involved in conducting surveillance of the political opposition on grounds that that was never the army’s focus. At the same time, he acknowledged that Walter Rodney was a respected historian and budding political activist. “I myself would have hoped that Burnham and Jagan would have seen him as a man of concern. Walter Rodney was the leader of a budding political party,” he said.

Mc Lean admitted that the WPA had infiltrated the GDF where that party’s publications like the Day Clean had surfaced. “ I don’t like the word infiltration but he certainly had a following in the army but I didn’t feel that he posed a security threat. I never met Walter Rodney,”  he said.

In an apparent cross-checking of a claim by former House of Israel member, Joseph Hamilton, that a former GDF officer had trained members of that religious cult to make bombs, Mc Lean said he was unaware.

The former army chief could not recall specifically when he had learnt of Rodney’s death but said it could have been late on the night of the incident or the following morning. He doubted whether he was at a function with diplomats when he was told of the incident. He said he might have talked with then Prime Minister Burnham about the incident.  “I may have discussed the incident with Mr. Burnham, and agreed that I may have done so soon after the event,” he said.

Mc Lean said he was subpoenaed and given 117 questions to answer within a short space of time.