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THE ISSUE: Hoteliers see menacing trend

Natasha Beckles

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Almost two weeks ago the Royal Barbados Police Force admitted that crimes related to the cash-for-gold trade had reached crisis proportions and appealed to the public to refrain from wearing their gold jewellery in public until the force contains the situation.
The March 4 DAILY NATION reported that four daring daylight robberies of visitors in the space of a week had the chief of two popular hotels at wits’ end.
The hotelier suggested that authorities take a fresh look at the cash-for-gold enterprise since he believed it to be the biggest threat to Barbados’ struggling tourism industry.
He revealed that one day in the previous week two guests were robbed of their gold jewellery at 11 a.m. and a couple days later, innocent tourists using the popular Richard Haynes Boardwalk in Hastings, Christ Church, were also relieved of their precious metals.
“I’m convinced this type of action is to do with the cash-for-gold business. I’m hoping the police can come up with a plan to scan the businesses which operate and determine just how legitimate they are,” the peeved hotelier said.
The company chairman said he had no statistics on how many visitors had been robbed of gold, but noted there had been a clear upsurge along the island’s South Coast.
“There is a considerable amount of snatching these days of gold chains and bracelets. It is out of hand at the moment,” he noted, citing one example where someone was approached at his residence by individuals with sponsor-walk sheets and robbed of his chain when he returned with money for the sponsorship.
He said tourism remained the island’s major breadwinner and needed extra protection from actions that could lead to fewer visitor arrivals.
“This is a serious problem we have right now. The police are doing a great job of catching persons after the crime has been committed but we have to look at why the crimes are being committed. I strongly believe it is because of cash-for-gold.”
He said some guests had told him that hoteliers and travel agents needed to do a better job of making guests aware there was a strong chance of being robbed of jewellery in broad daylight in Barbados.
He added that if left untouched, the cash-for-gold sector would only attract the country’s criminal element even more.
Meanwhile, a prominent attorney said in the March 7 DAILY NATION that he wanted to see the end of the popular trade. But more importantly, Barry Gale QC wanted to see the Royal Barbados Police Force become more innovative in stemming the upsurge in daring daylight robberies of jewellery.
In addition, he suggested it was time for hotel owners to face reality and start telling guests about the distinct possibility of losing their valuables while in Barbados.
“The point is that this [upsurge in daring robberies] isn’t happening here and there anymore. People are being robbed of gold virtually every day. Hotels have a duty to their guests to warn them about what they may face during their stay here.
“These are very extraordinary times at the moment,” the attorney-at-law said.
“I truly believe the cash-for-gold should stop. The situation in Barbados is totally out of control and has already inflicted considerable suffering on both locals and tourists alike.
“Every day we hear of new incidents where persons have been accosted, molested and beaten simply to snatch their gold chains, have gold earrings ripped from their ears on occasion, and gold bracelets taken. People are afraid of wearing their gold jewellery in public for fear of being attacked and robbed” the lawyer said.
“The problem has the potential of destroying our tourism product in Barbados, which everyone knows is our main economic source of income,” he added.
In the March 12 DAILY NATION visitor and letter writer Trevor Rabjohn suggested the problem with jewellery theft was far worse than perceived and related his experience.
“On Friday, March 1, in Bay Street, my wife was violently assaulted, injured and robbed of two valuable necklaces by two young local low-life, cowardly, vile thugs. The police were less than effective in their caring treatment of my wife, and their lack of effective evidence-gathering left me less than impressed or confident that they had the resources or ability to gather evidence or investigate crime in a meaningful manner.
“We have walked this route many times, having been advised it was safe to do so. It can no longer currently be regarded as safe for tourists,” Rabjohn said.
He added: “We have been coming to Barbados for many years since my wife loves the island and climate for her health, and loves the many friends and decent, hard-working Bajan people that we have met.
“However, my duty is to protect my wife from unnecessary risk. It had been our intention to return to Barbados year after year for as long as we could afford it and were healthy enough to do it. We were already booked to come next year. I am now intending to cancel this with great sadness and it is likely we will never return,” he said.
The visitor noted Trinidad and Jamaica were regarded by many British people as crime-risk areas and they only went there into all-inclusive guarded properties, but Barbados had always been regarded as safe.
He suggested that the authorities’ initial action should have been to warn, in writing, all visitors arriving at the island’s ports that the problem exists.
“The warning should state that jewellery, mobile phones and valuable items should not be carried at any time. Had we been properly warned when we arrived, it would have given us a realistic chance to avoid the theft and violent assault on my wife.
“This was a critical initial action that should have and should still be taken whilst undertaking other actions to tackle the issue. I imagine the holiday industry is vital to Barbados and once lost, will be very difficult to retrieve,” he said.