CoE chairman intervenes over ‘unfair’ questions to witness

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Jerome Lynch, KC, chairman of the Paria Commission of Enquiry, makes a point during the sitting on Wednesday at Tower D, Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain. – Angelo Marcelle

PARIA Commission of Enquiry (CoE) chairman Jerome Lynch, KC, intervened during a hearing of the commission on Wednesday in situations where he seemed to believe two attorneys were questioning a witness unfairly.

His interventions happened during the testimony of former Paria acting operations team lead Visham Harricharan at Tower D of the Port of Spain International Waterfront Centre.

Kazim Ali Jr, Fyzal Kurban, Yusuf Henry, Rishi Nagassar and Christopher Boodram were doing routine maintenance on a 30-inch pipeline at Berth 6, belonging to Paria Fuel Trading Co Ltd, at Pointe-a-Pierre on February 25, when they were sucked into it. Only Boodram survived.

Lynch’s first intervention came during attorney Prakash Ramadhar’s questioning of Harricharan. Ramadhar is representing the Kurban and Henry families.

Ramadhar asked Harricharan if a decision was made to save Kurban, Henry, Nagassar and Ali Jr, after it was learnt they were trapped in the pipeline.

Harricharan said, “No, I wouldn’t say that.”

Ramadhar asked if a decision was taken not to save them.

Harricharan said, “No, I wouldn’t say that, either.”

Asked by Ramadhar who from Paria gave instructions for no diver to go into the pipeline because the conditions were too dangerous, Harrichan indicated that it was the company’s incident commander, Collin Piper. He said he was on site shortly after the incident happened, but Piper was not,

Ramadhar asked Harricharan if he could have made a decision to rescue the divers, since he was on site.

Harricharan said he could not.

“It was not my decision to make.”

Harricharan reiterated that he was part of an incident command structure created by Paria to deal with the incident.

Lynch intervened as Ramadhar continued to ask Harricharan whose decision it was to rescue the divers or not.

“I’m not sure he can answer that.”

When Ramadhar persisted, Lynch told Harricharan, “Don’t answer that question.”

He advised Ramadhar to move on a different topic.

“I think we know where we stand.”

Ramadhar asked Harricharan if he knew an audio recording of the conversations of the five divers when the incident happened was in the public domain.

Lynch told Ramadhar, “That is an unfair composition of a question.”

He reminded Ramadhar that the audio recording had not been posted on the commission’s website. Ramadhar admitted to being unaware of this.

Lynch reminded him that when the commission began its evidentiary hearings last month, only six minutes of that recording were played. Reiterating that the recording was traumatising to anyone who listened to it, Lynch said, “We deliberately kept it short.”

He added the recording will not be made available to the public.

Later in the hearing, Seamen and Waterfront Workers Trade Union (SWWTU) attorney Nyree Alfonso asked Harricharan if he was aware of the conditions in the pipeline and about any decision taken to rescue the four divers.

Lynch told Alfonso, “All the answers to your questions are in his (witness) statement.”

He said all attorneys should read the documents that were provided to them in preparation for the hearings. Lynch added that the purpose of the cross-examination of witnesses by attorneys representing different interests in this matter was to “elicit fresh or new information.”

He said this information would guide the commission as it seeks to determine the facts behind the incident.