Watson Duke late for court, loses appeal over false fire report

Watson Duke.-File photo/Sureash Cholai
Watson Duke.-File photo/Sureash Cholai

FORMER Public Services Association (PSA) president and leader of the Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) Watson Duke on Tuesday lost his intended appeal against a 2021 conviction because he was late for court.

The conviction was for making a false fire report in 2017, for which he was fined $1,200, .

His appeal was dismissed when he failed to show up at the Hall of Justice in Port of Spain for the hearing of the magisterial appeal.

Tuesday’s sitting began at 9.30 am and Duke’s matter was the fourth to be called, shortly after 10 am.

When he did not appear when his name was called, Justices Alice Yorke-Soo Hon and Gregory Smith dismissed the appeal and affirmed the magistrate's orders..

Soo Hon said Duke had been personally served with the notice of Tuesday’s hearing.

The judges had moved on to other matters on the magisterial appeals list when, at 11.04 am, Duke, using the chat option on the Microsoft Teams platform used by the Judiciary for virtual courts, said he wanted to address the court.

At noon, his matter was recalled, but he was no longer on the virtual platform.

Soo Hon insisted the court had no obligation to wait on anybody, and court began at 9.30 am.

“He was not here. We have dealt with the appeal accordingly,” she told an attorney who asked to appear as a friend of the court for Duke.

Seconds later, Duke signed in to virtual court from what appeared to be the inside of a vehicle, insisting he was on his way. Soo Hon told him he was supposed to be in court, in person.

“We are not prepared to hear you. That is the end of that.”

In March 2021, Duke was found guilty of making or causing a false report to be made to fire officials at Arima Fire Station by deliberately setting off a fire alarm at the Arima Borough Corporation during a protest n in 2017.

Setting off such an alarm when there is no fire and causing fire officers to ­respond constitutes an offence.

A month later, he was fined by magistrate Avion Gill. He announced his intention to appeal on social media shortly afterwards, declaring his innocence.

“When an innocent man does no wrong, who cannot be convicted based on the facts put before the court, could be deemed guilty and forced to pay a $1,200 fine, it is a dark day for justice,” Duke said.

While he claimed he was confident that he would be eventually acquitted by the Court of Appeal, Duke suggested he was still willing to take the case further.

“If we are not satisfied there, we will go all the way to the Privy Council, where the Law Lords are still not bothered by the politics in our country will rule in our favour.”

Duke also said the conviction and charge were a political conspiracy.

“I did not pull that fire alarm. I was set up,” he said, as he claimed he was posing by the alarm for a photograph, and did not pull it.

Gill imposed to highest fine possible for the offence but did not apply the associated three-month prison term because of his good character.

In the event that Duke fails to pay the fine within a month, he will have to serve three months in prison.

The State was represented by assistant DPP Sabrina Dougdeen-Jaglal.


"Watson Duke late for court, loses appeal over false fire report"

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