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Justice Denied - Assassinations and militants in Bermuda

By Mel Ayton (Author of Justice Denied - Bermuda's Black Militants, The 'Third Man' and the Assassinations of a Police Chief and Governor - below is the introduction to his book.)

The past is the present, isn’t it? It’s the future too. We all tried to lie out of that but life won’t let us.” Eugene O’Neill

During 1972 and 1973 the North Atlantic British Colony of Bermuda, which had become a ‘playground’ for vacationing Americans, was suddenly thrust into a climate of fear when a spate of murders, including political assassinations, occurred. Bermuda became the only British territory ever to have the Queen’s representative murdered in cold blood and the first nation to suffer the violent effects of the importation of 1960s American black power militancy.

The first murder was committed on 9th September 1972 and the victim was Bermuda Police Commissioner (Police Chief) George Duckett, an expatriate officer who had previously served in a number of British colonies around the world. Duckett had been lured to the back porch of his home, Bleak House, North Shore in Devonshire, where he was ambushed by his killer, or killers.

The Bermuda Police, ill-equipped to deal with a major murder enquiry, sought the assistance of Scotland Yard who had been involved in previous murder investigations on the island in the past decade. Scotland Yard flew a team of detectives out to the colony. A substantial reward was offered by the Bermudian Government, but neither money nor murder squad detectives could raise any clues to the killer’s identity. The new Governor of Bermuda, Sir Richard Sharples, a sailing friend of UK Prime Minister Edward Heath, suspected the involvement of a Black Power organisation, the Black Beret Cadre. The Black Berets were a group of Bermudians who modelled themselves on the American Black Panthers. Although a number of Black Beret members were interviewed none were charged with the murder.

Following the British detectives’ return to London, and exactly six months to the day since the Police Chief was killed, Governor Sharples and his aide Captain Hugh Sayers were shot dead in the grounds of the Governor’s mansion in the capital city of Hamilton. Sir Richard’s Great Dane, Horsa, was also shot dead. Once again a team of detectives were requested to investigate the crime. Scotland Yard’s Chief Superintendent Wright and Detective Inspector Basil Haddrell led the team. With no more evidence than that three black men were seen or heard running from the scene of the latest shootings and a conviction that the two murders were linked with that of the Police Chief, the detectives conceded defeat for a second time and left what investigating could still be carried out to the local police. Their task was extremely difficult as Deputy Governor Ian Kinnear found. “I would be less than frank,” Kinnear said, “if I said (the police) had received (help) in the investigation of the (murders). In a small, tight-knit community, there is a natural tendency to avoid getting involved or implicating others.”

The British newspaper, The Sunday Times, described the murder of Sir Richard Sharples as “a deep and personal tragedy” and editorialized : “It had been widely assumed that, after the outbursts of protests that led to some violence in 1968 and 1970 Bermuda had settled down to working out its destiny by parliamentary means…many reforms, a new and democratic constitution and the opening of more posts to black Bermudians have been made since the troubles of 1968.Yet these considerations can leave many bitter and disgruntled people at the bottom of the heap who blame their lack of success or status on race and the British connection.”

The funeral of Sir Richard provoked intense feelings of shame except for a number of black Bermudians who lined the funeral route. They had come to ‘mock’ according to a Foreign Office official. If evil is the absence of empathy, it was certainly abroad in Bermuda that tragic week. The official continued to describe the atmosphere on the island as, “…a mixture of shame, embarrassment, a desire to shed responsibility.” The Chief Justice said it was, “a sick society with marked racial tensions.”

The assassins of the police chief and Governor were so confident of their ability to elude police they struck again in the capital city Hamilton on April 6th 1973. Two white shopkeepers, Mark Doe and Victor Rego, were found dead on the floor of their store. They had been shot with a .32 pistol although some .22 bullets were left at the scene of the crime. The .22 bullets indicated a link with the murder of George Duckett. With what now appeared to be a further embarrassment to the Bermuda Government, Scotland Yard detectives were once more called to investigate. A new and enlarged police team arrived in Bermuda and in desperation the Bermuda Government offered a reward of three million dollars for information leading to the apprehension of the killers.

In September 1973, the Bank of Bermuda was robbed of $28,000 by an armed man, Buck Burrows, and on the 18th October detectives, acting on a tip off, arrested him. After a second man, Larry Tacklyn, was arrested and charged, and with a large reward still outstanding, information began to trickle in confirming their involvement in the five murders.
In the November 1975 the Governor’s assassination Inquest Report concluded that both men had been responsible for the Governor’s assassination, “with other persons unknown.”

In 1976, Burrows and Tacklyn were charged with the murders of Sir Richard Sharples, Captain Hugh Sayers, Victor Rego and Mark Doe. Burrows faced an additional charge of murdering the Police Chief. Burrows was found guilty of murdering Police Chief George Duckett, Governor Sharples, Captain Sayers, Mark Doe and Victor Rego. Tacklyn was found not guilty of murdering the Governor but guilty of murdering the two store owners. Both men were sentenced to death and hanged. It emerged that though the two men were simply professional criminals they entertained some sympathy with the Black Power movement and the Black Beret Cadre in particular, and this had established the political motive for the crimes. During his trial Burrows sent a written confession to the prosecutor in which he admitted killing the Governor “along with others I shall never name.”

After the two assassins were executed in Casemates Prison on December 2nd 1977 revenge racial riots occurred throughout the island. They were incited by the Black Berets and the intemperate remarks of leading radical Progressive Labour Party politicians. Rioters attacked police stations and business premises, especially in the capital city of Hamilton. A state of emergency was issued that included a call-up of the Bermuda Regiment and the despatch of troops from the United Kingdom.

For the past 30 years the people of Bermuda had been given a whitewashed version of what exactly occurred when the murders were investigated and the two killers were brought to trial. However, as many Bermudians had suspected all along, not all of those involved in the murders of the Police Chief and the island’s governor had been brought to justice. As Tim Hodgson, one of Bermuda’s leading reporters commented in an email to me, “Not all of those involved in the Sharples conspiracy were brought before the courts. Although they were never charged, a chain of circumstantial evidence recorded in the (UK Foreign Office) files strongly suggests the complicity of several other individuals in the 1972/73 killings.”

However, even though the British Foreign Office files added to the sum of knowledge of the true circumstances surrounding the murders it was the release of the Scotland Yard Murder files that put the true story of the murders in the proper perspective. Additionally, further research by this author and interviews with former police officers who were involved in the murder investigations have provided a context that had been missing when two of Bermuda’s leading newspapers ran a series of stories during the past decade which had been based on the newly released files.
The Scotland Yard Murder files, released to me in 2004 and to the general public in 2005, reveal how a group of Bermudians, an ‘unholy alliance’ of underworld criminals and a remaining hard-core of Black Beret activists, conspired to commit murder, assassination and robbery. Self-styled ‘Godfather’ Bobby Greene, who owned a restaurant in the Court Street area of Hamilton, led the ‘underworld element’. He was the mastermind behind the spate of robberies in the early 1970s and was a known drug importer/dealer. The Governor’s assassins, which included members of the Black Berets, a Black Panther-type organization, spent most of their free time at the restaurant. In fact, it was known as a meeting place for the Black Berets. A former police officer stated, “Bobby Greene was the mind behind the weapons and cash. Not knowing for a fact but I would say the Black Beret Cadre used him (in recruiting the assassins).” Greene died in 2005.

The Scotland Yard Murder files also reveal that the Black Berets had “reconnoitred Government House” on at least four occasions and watched the homes of leading politicians in the years before the actual shootings. And the planned attack on Police Chief George Duckett was taken straight from an urban guerrilla manual that was amongst literature read by Black Beret members. Additionally, Black Beret leader John Hilton ‘Dionne’ Bassett had been seen firing a .38 revolver, the same type of weapon used to kill the Governor. This information was never revealed during the trials of the Governor’s assassins.

My research has also uncovered a number of suspicious links in the case. Dionne Bassett, founding member and original leader of the Black Berets, left the island on the 30th September 1972 shortly after George Duckett's murder and was known to harbor a deep hatred of the Police Chief. He eventually returned to the island but was never charged with any offence. Bassett died in the 1990s. In 1971 senior Beret member Phil Perinchief, who was characterized by UK and Bermuda authorities as the leading ‘intellectual’ and ‘ideologist’ of the movement, had shared a cell in Casemates Prison with Bassett. The files reveal that, whilst in prison, they were given “special privileges” for some unknown reason. Allegedly, Perinchief flew to Canada hours before George Duckett's murder. However, Scotland Yard detectives discovered no evidence that could link him to the assassinations of the Police Chief, Governor, the Governor’s aide Captain Hugh Sayers or the murders of the Hamilton shopkeepers.

A ‘third man’ was also involved in the conspiracy, according to Scotland Yard detectives, and he fled the island after the Governor’s assassination with one of the two named assassins. (Author’s Note: Until the Bermuda Government establishes a royal commission to look into the real facts of the murders he must remain anonymous for legal reasons. Throughout this book he will be referred to as ‘the third man’)

The third man was connected to the assassination by a shotgun shell found in his home. A warrant for his arrest was issued but was never acted upon. A government report stated that US police had been contacted and asked to “keep an eye” on him but he was never extradited. He returned to the island a few years later but the arrest warrant had mysteriously gone missing. As a former police officer source stated, “With regard to arresting (the third man) I don’t believe there was much choice - the whole file including warrants, information etc had gone, I believe from the court registry. … I have a vague memory of an arrest on arrival prior to them discovering everything missing. I do not know why it was not reinvestigated with fresh information… maybe too much was missing. Maybe a deal was struck?”

The missing arrest warrant, according to the ex-police officer source, indicates there were people in high places who conspired to prevent the arrest of the third man. “My opinion is and was,” he said, “ that if they brought (him) back this would create such a political mess with the Bermuda Industrial Union (Allied with the opposition black party)…. The government had enough on its plate. The island was divided 50-50 on the race issue. They had enough trouble dealing with all the black participants (in the murders)….. I guess the feeling was if anything comes to light that can directly involve and get a confession from someone or point to (the third man) that they could put before the courts, it’s better to have him at arm’s length and being watched.”

The motive for stealing or destroying the arrest warrant, the source alleges, was a fear that riots would ensue. This suspicion was supported by a Foreign Office memo from a British official stationed in Bermuda in 1973 which stated, “Our case against (the third man) and the real ring leaders hang only on one shotgun cartridge and inadmissible evidence. At most (he) might be sent down for six months or a year if he returned to Bermuda. I am strongly of the opinion that would do more harm than good to the whole situation. Therefore, it seems to me infinitely more preferable that he should stay up in (North America) and the more we can harry him the better. The more we can drop stories into the press the better – our only means of communication with him – that might make him say ‘God, they know that do they? I wonder how much more they know’ The more we can make him and his friends still here in Bermuda, against whom we have no case at all, feel nervous and jittery, the better.”

In September 2004 I received a letter from Sir Richard’s widow, Baroness Sharples. She knew about the ‘third man’ and wrote, “(He) was the third involved, he went to the USA at that time where he was under observance, returned to Bermuda many years later, where I was informed he would not be arrested if he did not step out of line….” In subsequent telephone conversations Baroness Sharples expressed dismay and disgust that the authorities had not arrested him.

According to a former police officer, Neville Darrell, who wrote about the assassination of the Governor in his scant 90 page book Acel d’Ama, he asked one of the two men named as the governor’s assassins if anyone else had assisted in the murders. The assassin replied, “Neville, you’ll be surprised, man, who was involved. Yes sir, man, you’ll be surprised.”

In the period 2004/2005 information I discovered in the Scotland Yard Files was given to a former senior police officer involved in the murder investigations. He wished to remain anonymous as he still lived on the island. The senior officer reached the rank of Superintendent which put him in the top half dozen officers on the island. According to one of his former colleagues in the force, “… he was an honest man and took his job seriously and professionally…he was one of those people who if he told you to do something you did it not only because it would be an order but because you knew it was right and that he would back you up if there was subsequently any problems; you could trust him…..He was privy to a great deal of information and procedures…..He was someone with ‘status’.”

The senior officer said the information I supplied to him went beyond anything published in the Mid Ocean News’ series on the assassinations. He also said I was correct in my conclusions about who was to blame for the assassination of the Governor and the police chief and that I was “…accurately centred in the middle of the nest.”

Copyright © & Mel Ayton

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