Warden dies following Guyana prison fire
GEORGETOWN – The Guyana government Sunday night sought to assure citizens that the situation at the country’s main prison in the capital was under control and that inmates from the burnt facility were being transferred to other institutions across the country.
Prison officials confirmed that six prison officers were taken to the Georgetown Public Hospital (GPHC) where prison warden, Odinga Wickham, succumbed to gunshot wounds, two are in critical condition and three are stable.
“As we speak a joint and entire search of the facility was being conducted to ensure that all persons have been removed from the prison,” said the director of prisons Gladwin Samuels, adding that he had not received any reports of any prisoners dying.
Samuels said that of Sunday, the prison accommodated 1 018 prisoners. Sixteen months ago, 17 prisoners died at the same facility following a fire there.
The police have issued wanted bulletins for two prisoners who escaped following the fire at the Camp Street facility saying they are wanted for murder and escaping from lawful custody.
They have named the two as Uree Varswyke alias Malcolm Gordon and Mark Royden Durant alias Royden Williams or “Smallie”.
President David Granger urged citizens to practice safety and precautionary measures and that law enforcement officers are working along with members of the joint services to recapture those who have escaped custody.
“Well the government is acting quickly to ensure that the prisoners are caught but more important, that those prisoners who were previously accommodated at the Georgetown prison are kept in a secure place and this is our task overnight on this Sunday night and by Monday morning they will be in secure accommodation so Guyanese will be assured that there are not going to be prisoners roaming all about the city or the countryside.
“Troops were deployed from the Guyana Defence Force, special police were deployed from the Guyana Police Force, the fire service was deployed and of course the prison service responded immediately so there was immediate response from all four of those services.” President Granger explained.
The President said that it is hoped that within the next 24-36 hours all prisoners formerly held at the Georgetown Prison will be relocated. These prisons include The Lusignan Prison, Timehri Prison and the Mazaruni Prison.
Public Security Minister, Khemraj Ramjattan, told a late night news conference that the prisoners will be secured for the next 48 hours at the Lusignan prison, while efforts intensify to locate those prisoners on the run.
“We are in the process of providing the necessary things to make them comfortable and make arrangements for them to be placed in other prisons around Georgetown. We are getting some tents and extra lighting in Lusignan, it’s a closed off area.”
He said that simple measures were also implemented such as installing more closed circuit television security systems which led to prisoner officers being caught colluding with prisoners on previous occasions.
“A lot of them for possession for narcotics and they have served some time. There is an early and a late release date, but if you have good behaviour you can have remissions from me….We have to ask the Chancellor to start the process of going to prisons to do situational analysts to see how many remands are there and if their (prisoners) families can pay their bails.”
The Minister assured that the Camp Street prison will be rehabilitated as soon as possible with additional staffing and full capacity.
Director of Prisons, Gladwin Samuels said that the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) were activated at the prisons as the events unfolded.
He said he had received two phone calls on Sunday afternoon informing him of the fire and that a prison officer was taken hostage and there were reports of gun shots being fired.
The sections which are referred to as the ‘wooden prison’ at the corner of the Durban and John Street, and Prison Chapel at the corner of Bent and John Street, were on fire. The incident started at the two locations simultaneously.
Samuels said that from “his perspective the two wooden buildings were completely gutted and prison sports club that was been used as a holding area was set on fire and destroyed.
“The Fire Service was there but the fire quickly spread to other buildings, which the assistance of other agencies, we immediately activated the Evacuation Procedure whereby the brought prisoners to a safe area outside, all of the prisoners that they have access to and that were readily available”. (CMC)