Armed gang robs Canje family of $10M, jewels
-Probe ordered after 'poor' police response

This Keisha McCammon photo shows a bullet hole in one of the windows.

A gang of armed men yesterday beat and robbed an East Canje family, some of whom are visiting from Canada, making off with around $10M in local and foreign currency and jewellery.

Last evening the police announced that a probe had been ordered of the reported poor response by law enforcement officers to reports that had been made by the family. Five persons have so far been taken into custody as the police continue investigations into the attack. The family has told Stabroek News that around eight men participated in the robbery while a police release yesterday put the figure at four.

According to Inez Bajnauth, who resides at the Betsy Ground, East Canje, Berbice home, around 12:30 am yesterday she and others were sitting on the veranda when they noticed suspicious-looking men walking up and down the street. She said they became scared because her sister Danmat Singh, 50; her sister's husband Gopie Singh, 54; their daughter Parbattie Singh and her four children had arrived in the country last Wednesday.

Bajnauth said her sister and her husband had returned to repair the house which belongs to them.

Once they had observed the men, she said, they immediately dialled the Reliance Police Station but there was no response. They then rang the Albion Police Station, and someone answered and directed them to ring the New Amsterdam Police Station. The person who took the report at New Amsterdam, she said, told them that a patrol was on the road and it would be sent over as soon as it came in. At that time 22 persons were in the home: 11 adults and 11 children and most of them were awake.

A ransacked room of the Betsy Ground house.

Bajnauth said they waited for the police patrol, which never came and eventually they locked up the house and turned in. However, they were uneasy as the men were still in the area and no one actually went to bed. She said it was as though they had a wake.

Around 3.30 am, she said, they saw a man standing on the outside stairs peeping through a window and someone shouted at him. Shots rang out then, she said and another man jumped from a water tank downstairs onto the shed attached to the top flat, broke a window on the veranda and entered the home. She said others also entered the home, all armed with guns, and all the relatives were ordered to lie on the floor and not to make any noise. They were ordered to hand over money and jewellery.

She added that while these men were upstairs others were downstairs and they were firing shots, perhaps to scare off anyone who might have attempted to go to their aid. The men who wore brown clothing and masks then took the children into one room and the adults into another room, which they ransacked. They removed everyone's jewellery and a large amount of local and foreign currency. The men also took away a large suitcase, which had not been opened since the relatives arrived, as well as several passports. Bajnauth said the men took Cdn$40 which her niece had given to her for Mother's Day and which she had placed in a wallet in the wardrobe.

She recalled the men taking Cdn$10,000 from her brother-in-law and more money from her sister and niece including their jewellery. The men beat their terrified hostages about their bodies with their guns, ransacked the entire house and damaged a few household appliances including a fan and a gas cooker.

Bajnauth said the men paraded up and down in the house as if they lived there.

Other family members said the ordeal went on for about an hour and although they had screamed no one came out nor did the police arrive until sometime after. The men later escaped by jumping over a back fence and going into a canefield. Family members said the gang numbered about eight and they knew who to look for, who had money and how much as at one point they had said that the money they had been given was not enough.

The police issued two releases on the matter yesterday. The first said that around 3.20 yesterday four men - three armed with guns and one with a cutlass - robbed the family. The release said that the suspects entered the yard and fired two shots, one of which shattered a window. The victims were forced to open the door after threats were made. Upon gaining entry the suspects were assaulted and robbed. Police said the bandits took $124,000, CDN$55,300 (around $10M), jewellery and documents. While fleeing, the bandits discharged two more rounds, the police said.

The second press release issued last evening said that "the Guyana Police Force wishes to express its concern over this incident in light of the reported poor response by police ranks. As a consequence, the Assistant Commissioner in charge of the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) has been tasked to investigate and report in relation to police action taken prior to and after the robbery".

The poor response by the police to crimes has been a longstanding problem all across the country and in Berbice it has led to several protests and calls for wholesale changes to the staffing of the police division and command of the area.

The house at Betsy Ground that armed men attacked yesterday. (Keisha McCammon photo)

A ransacked room of the Betsy Ground house.