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No children in containers

By Indarjit Seuraj and Lara Pickford-Gordon Wednesday, March 4 2009

click on pic to zoom in

Rumours that children had been found in a shipping container and that one of them was missing eight-year-old Leah Lammy spread like wildfire on radio and television reports yesterday, prompting the police to search the ports at Port-of-Spain, Chaguaramas and Pt Lisas.

Deputy Police Commissioner Gilbert Reyes told Newsday the police had heard the conflicting reports about children in a container and even received calls from Government ministers asking whether or not they were true.

In response, police teams went into the ports of Port-of-Spain, Pt Lisas and Crews Inn, Chaguara-mas where soldiers, port police and Customs and Excise Division officers joined them as they began to search for the mystery container of children who the reports claimed were to be shipped to Cuba.

The police even heard one report that Leah was locked in a container which was on a barge in the Gulf of Paria, off the Pt Lisas port.

The gates at the entrance of the Port-of-Spain port were closed to the public by midday as the search took place at the shipping yard at Queen’s Wharf. A few police cars were parked outside and officers were seen moving around behind the gates. At intervals, additional police cars and a few unmarked vehicles arrived and drove into the compound. A police helicopter circled above the shipping yard.

One officer was heard telling another that he was gathering information to report to Acting Police Commissioner James Philbert.

By 1 pm, several of the police vehicles had left the compound and the investigators who remained behind stayed at the port police post.

A Newsday team also visited Crews Inn, Chaguaramas, at about 2 pm, but by that time a search by the police and soldiers had already been carried out.

The searches in Port-of-Spain and Pt Lisas took place even as Silas Mack appeared in the Chaguanas Magistrates’ Court on the charge of kidnapping Leah, who remains missing.

After hearing the radio and television reports, concerned members of the public frantically telephoned Newsday’s newsroom asking if what they heard was true.

The rumours even reached the Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church, Richmond Street, Port-of-Spain, which is several streets away from the port. Parish priest Fr Roland Quesnel, during midday Mass, prayed “for the children found in the container”, startling the congregation with the news.

However, after several anxious hours, the Port Authority of TT (PATT) issued a statement, at about 2 pm, denying the rumours that a container with children had been found at the port.

“It has come to the attention of the Port Authority that information has been circulating that children were found in a container at the Port of Port-of-Spain, so far, we have found absolutely no evidence to support this information. However, our security personnel continue to investigate and monitor our premises in response to this very serious report,” PATT said in the release.

PATT also disclosed the report was also “carefully and thoroughly investigated” by the police.

At about an hour later, Acting Commissioner of Police James Philbert issued a statement which, unlike PATT’s release, was vague and did not specify what reports the Commissioner was disputing. It did confirm that the police, port police and customs officers conducted a search at the Port-of-Spain port, however it did not say what was the subject of the search.

It only said that Philbert had been made aware of “rumours...circulating throughout the country that are causing much concern among our citizens.”

“After a thorough check of the Port of Port-of-Spain by police officers, port police and officers of the Customs and Excise Division, the Commissioner confirms that all these allegations are just rumours.”

He described the radio and television reports as “unsubstantiated”.

Seamen and Waterfront Workers’ Trade Union president general Michael Annisette also said he was inundated with telephone calls about a container found at the port with children.

“I asked my officers to check the port and go through different areas,” he told Newsday.

Annisette said there was an increased police presence at the port as well as an army detail because a shipment of arms and ammunition for the Ministry of National Security was being cleared and it was normal for security to be increased “as opposed to a container being found with any children.”

Minister of National Security Martin Joseph also scotched the rumours in response to a note from Newsday, during the sitting of the Senate, asking him to confirm or deny them.

Joseph wrote: “Deny!!!. Don’t know where that talk started. No such development occurred. I expect the CoP (Commissioner of Police) to make a statement later.”

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