JAMAICA – The story of my brother’s murder

(BBC) – By Steve Walker – Additional reporting: Nesta McGregor and Nick Davis

In April 2018, I received a 30-second phone call that changed my life forever.

It was evening and I had returned home from the gym to a series of missed calls – my sister Jackie, my sister Claudette, my brother Dave, my brother George in the US.

And I thought for a moment, ‘Who was missing – who had not called?’

My brother Delroy.

“We’ve had some bad news,” Jackie told me when we eventually spoke.

“Delroy’s been murdered.”

I couldn’t take it in. A thousand and one thoughts went through my mind. Who would kill Delroy? And why?

It is characterised by a mix of new-build villas painted in tropical pastel tones, some almost palatial in size, and half-built houses – their owners likely on budget waiting for further funds to come along.

Empty plots of land offer the promise of a custom-built home for prospective retirees looking for peace and quiet, and views that take in either the sea, or the cool hills that roll down to meet it. Or both if you’re lucky.

This part of the parish of St Mary on the north of the island has for years been a haven for “returning residents” – the legal name for people coming back to Jamaica after living away “in farin”, such as the US, Canada or the UK.

Delroy was one of them.

His house was what the family described as a one in million home – a Spanish-style villa with balconies outside each bedroom offering uninterrupted views of the ocean.

A carpenter by trade, Delroy was renovating the house. In the garden, he had planted fruit trees – mango and banana – and the beginnings of a vegetable patch.

The phrase “Living the Dream” was created for Delroy. At the age of 63, after decades working in the UK, my brother had saved enough to be able to retire back in the country of his birth.

But If it wasn’t for that house, my brother would most likely be alive today. Delroy left Jamaica at the age of 10 with my mum and dad and two other siblings. That was 1961, and they became part of what is known as the Windrush Generation.

Croydon, in south-east London, became their adopted home. But the flame of Jamaica continued to burn brightly for the family – especially for Delroy.

We always said he left Jamaica but Jamaica never left him.

He loved to recount stories of his early life there – the food, swimming in the cool sea, helping my grandfather on his small farm holding.

Delroy was a practical man. He finished his education, trained as a carpenter and went into the building trade.

And he was generous with his time. For some of the jobs that he did, he wouldn’t want to take money, he’d say, “Just spend it on this person, or send it to Jamaica.”

For a while, he became a fundraiser for a charity based in the Midlands, dedicated to helping children in need in the West Indies.

And he found other ways to help people in Jamaica.

Delroy was a hoarder – he wouldn’t let us throw anything away if he thought it could be reused. Every couple of years or so, he would collect it all and send it to Jamaica, where it could be shared with family or wider community.

And most years, he would find a way to go to the island for a period of time.

In 2005, Delroy and I – along with six of our siblings – took part in a TV documentary about families exploring their roots.

For the documentary, 200 members of the extended family scattered across the UK, US and Canada gathered in Jamaica. Delroy was one of the relatives who featured. It makes unsettling viewing now. He stands out, looking younger than his years, wearing bright African clothes.

He just smiled and smiled throughout the trip back to his motherland. It was this and subsequent trips that made him decide to make it his home.

After the phone call from my Jackie, I knew that I would need to go to Jamaica as soon as I could.

The Jamaican police were liaising with family in London, but it became evident to me during the initial part of the investigation that there were aspects that I didn’t feel were being conducted adequately.

For example, I’m a technical operator with the BBC, and had told my brother to install CCTV cameras around his property for added security. But it seemed to me that evidence from the cameras wasn’t being collected quickly enough.

Standing at the gate of Delroy’s house, I was immediately struck by the beauty of its surroundings. But I knew that behind the wooden front door I would be confronted with the full horror of Delroy’s last moments.

We had been told by investigators that it was a vicious attack and that my brother had been stabbed multiple times. And here, in front of us, was the scene exactly as it had been left that night.

In the Jamaican system, there aren’t any professional clean up companies that are sent to deal with crime scenes – that’s left to the family.

Upturned furniture; a smashed window; a bloodied boot mark; blood on the ceiling, walls, floor – soaked into one of the rugs. It all pointed to one thing – that my brother had fought hard for his life.

Looking around the house, my first thought was that the motive appeared not to have been robbery. My brother was an avid photographer, and his expensive cameras hadn’t been taken. Items such as his laptop, desktop computer and mobile phone were still there.

In the days after our arrival on the island, there was a lot of confusion. I felt that there were elements of the case that had been carried out too quickly. This didn’t fill me with confidence.

I asked a contact on the island – a former police officer with good working knowledge of these types of cases – how long we had before police resources would get diverted away. He said that it would likely be just four-to-six weeks.

Just three weeks after Delroy, a couple from Manchester, England, were also murdered.

That year, a total of eight British returnees were killed, and at least three more returnees from the US and Canada.

A few weeks after my brother was stabbed to death, police arrested two men. They had been employed by Delroy to carry out work on his house. But they have been in custody for almost two years, and there is still no date for a trial.

For some families that I have spoken to, or learnt about, who over the years have had loved ones killed after they returned to Jamaica, there have been no arrests.

Delroy’s death set me on a journey to find out why so many returnees in Jamaica were being targeted and what was being done about it.

I don’t want to stop people going back to pursue their own dreams – it is undoubtedly a beautiful country with amazing people –  but I thought that by highlighting what I saw as an under-reported issue, I might be able to bring about something lasting from my brother’s death.

During the 1980s and 90s, thousands of Windrush Generation that arrived in the UK between the late 40s and early 70s returned to Jamaica. The authorities estimate that up to 10,000 people a year returned from Britain, the US and Canada during those years.

The government sees the diaspora population, which is far bigger than the island’s population, as key to Jamaica’s economic development, not only in remittances but also in direct foreign investment and an inflow of human labour.

The numbers of returnees has declined to just a few thousand now. This could be because there is less migration out of Jamaica.

But could it also have something to do with the number of returnees who have been murdered?

Claude Parchmore, a British-Jamaican I know in London, has been going back and forth to the island for a number of years. But he says the media coverage, and information circulating on social media about the potential dangers to returnees, has led his children to put pressure on him not to settle there permanently.

I have heard similar concerns from many within the British-Jamaican community.

It’s difficult to get figures for the total number of returnees that have been killed, but one Caribbean-based organisation estimates that more than 85 British nationals have been killed on the island in the past two decades.

Jamaica’s problem with violence is well documented.

According to the latest figures from the United Nations, Jamaica has the second highest murder rate in the world. With a population of just over 2.8m people, there are more than a 1,000 murders a year. That’s nearly 50 times the murder rate in the UK.

For its part, the Jamaican police has long been seen as underpaid, poorly trained, understaffed and lacking in resources. This is something that the UK Home Office highlighted in its 2018 country report.

“In addition, corruption and impunity for abuses committed by the police has led to mistrust amongst citizens,” it added.

But the report also stated that since 2009, the government has been taking steps to counter some of those problems, with a strategy of crime prevention and community safety.

The journey that began with my brother’s death has raised many questions about migration, identity and belonging.

Are returnees being seen as soft targets because they are coming home relatively wealthy after working for decades abroad. And what is that notion of “home”?

It’s something I discussed with Leroy Logan, who runs the Jamaica diaspora crime intervention and prevention taskforce in the UK.

Logan, a former Scotland Yard superintendent who spent some of his early years in Jamaica, is primarily focused on solutions to Jamaica’s wider crime issue. The government’s 2030 vision, he explains, is to make Jamaica more secure and more enjoyable.

But he did have advice for returnees.

He says much of the issue comes down to how people understand the idea of creating home in a place they left many decades ago.

If you still think of it as “home” after all this time, ask yourself if the same people you grew up with are still there, he advised.

Sometimes you go back to an area and it’s changed so much.

Don’t go back to a place you haven’t visited much and try to immerse yourself without understanding of the notion of the haves and the have-nots, he warned.

And don’t isolate yourself from the community by building a big house on top of the hill – contribute to it instead. Be sensitive – don’t start showing off your relative wealth. Integrate slowly and don’t go as far as to think you are suddenly part of the community after all these years, because you’re not. You will most likely be seen as a foreigner.

In terms of the people around you – choose them wisely, he said, particularly people you may ask to do work for you. To start employing people who aren’t recommended could put you at risk.

It all seemed like good, simple advice to me. But what is the government, itself, doing to communicate this?

During the investigation of my brother’s case in 2018, my sisters and I met Jamaican Police Commissioner Major General Antony Anderson.

We suggested at the time that the authorities should place more emphasis on the welfare, safety and wellbeing of returning residents.

Later that year, Anderson came to the UK to speak to the diaspora in London, Manchester, Bristol and Birmingham, and said the authorities were taking on board concerns about safety.

And I brought it up with subsequent meetings with the Jamaican High Commission in London – why if returnees were so important to the country, was safety not given equal weight to other advice, such as what to do with your finances and how to conduct a relocation.

In February this year, I returned to Jamaica to explore some of the deeper questions that emerged after Delroy’s death.

I travelled with BBC reporter Nesta McGregor – whose family also has origins in Jamaica.

We wanted to ask if there is a disconnect between returnees’ views of their own relationship with their birthplace and the reality.

We hadn’t been in Jamaica long before the problems for returnees were evident.

Dwight, our taxi driver from the airport, pointed out that the road we were travelling on was once a crime hot spot.

“People working at the airport used to tip them (criminals) off – for example who was carrying large sums of cash. What cars they got in. That type of thing,” Dwight told us.

“They’d then wait along this stretch here and rob the incoming travellers.”

The Jamaican Constabulary Force has since addressed the problem by creating a special unit whose sole job is to guard this stretch of land.

“That’s not unique to Jamaica. Anywhere where you have the ‘haves and have nots’, people will do what they need to survive,” Dwight said.

The conversation also revealed that Dwight worked for one of the largest private security firms in Jamaica – a sector that was growing rapidly.

Later that evening, Nesta and I visited a local bar in Kingston. It was good to be back in Jamaica – to smell the spicy seasoned meat and listen to the soft reggae music. It reminded me of why Delroy had decided to settle here for good.

We struck up a conversation with two locals – Mark, a music producer, and Sash, who works in administration. The pair gave us an insight into why returning residents may be a target.

Mark told us that there’s a certain level of envy because anyone who goes overseas is automatically seen as wealthy. He said that leaving the island is a big endeavour – it’s almost a guarantee that your life and that of your family will improve. So for people who know they’ll never leave, never get a chance to do the same, that’s where the envy comes from, he said.

Sash agrees there is a lot of jealousy. She says that if you are able to go overseas, whether or not you actually do have a lot of money, in the eyes of a regular Jamaican you will be regarded as wealthy.

As you drive around Jamaica, it is evident that security is a major concern, regardless of the affluence of the area. Protecting what you have seems to be a common theme – however little.

Although my brother had installed a steel gate and security cameras, he didn’t want bars on his windows – he told me he hadn’t come to Jamaica to live in a prison.

But it is worth emphasising that many returnees live here without any problems.

Added to that are the hundreds of thousands of tourists who visit the island to enjoy major attractions such as the Dunns River Falls and the Bob Marley Museum – and experience a trouble-free stay.

One night, we arranged to meet a group of residents who had returned from the UK a while back, in Trelawny.

They explained that the community centre we were in had been built by returnees keen to have a place where they could integrate with the locals – get to know them properly.

Over games of dominoes they told us their stories. All of them spoke glowingly about their experiences of returning. But some did highlight the importance of having the right security measures in place.

Yvette, who spent 45 years in England, believes that many of the killings of returning residents are not random.

“It’s not like people are just going up to them and killing them,” she said. “It’s often someone they know. When you come from London we have been taught to be very trusting of neighbours, so we bring that mentality over here.”

But she stressed that she wasn’t worried that anything would happen to her.

Joyce, who had returned in 1998 after 40 years in the UK, said she hadn’t been expecting people to welcome her “back with open arms as a Jamaican”.

“We were received as foreigners,” she said.

The issue of belonging is an interesting one. Are returning residents Jamaican or British? Does it matter?

It was a question that arose after Delroy’s murder when we asked for help from the British consulate.

Delroy held both British and Jamaican citizenship and when the family came to a meeting in 2018 at the consulate, we were told that he wasn’t British – or British enough – so they couldn’t support us in the same way they would have done if he was a British national. That was a shock.

On this second visit, I arranged another meeting to clarify this point.

And one thing that was agreed was that my brother was British and should have been classed as that. They confirmed that in the case of murder that British identification should override everything.

There were other small things that I think the consulate could have done to help us after the murder.

For example, keeping in touch with the police on the island required a local SIM card for our mobile phones. But getting one requires the equivalent of a National Insurance number. That was difficult since I didn’t live or work in Jamaica.

This slowed down the process of getting information because the police were reluctant to make expensive calls to a UK number.

But now, as a direct result of my brother’s case, the embassy has agreed to provide British visitors who find themselves in the middle of an emergency with local SIM cards.

It’s a small change but one that is massive when you’re dealing with a world of other problems.

The last stop on my journey is to visit Acting Assistant Police Commissioner Fitz Bailey.

I asked him about the judicial process and why there was still no trial date for the two men arrested for my brother’s murder.

Fitz Bailey explained that a new judiciary minister has been appointed to deal with the country’s extensive backlog of cases.

He told me that at the time of Delroy’s murder, there was a significant number of robberies against returning residents. As a result a special unit had been set up by the high command to look after returnees.

Each commander should identify returning residents in their local areas and regularly check in with them.

And he told me that the government’s “Welcome Home” booklet for returning residents has been adapted in recent years in response to the number of deaths.

Where it used to focus on telling returning residents the practicalities of moving, it now focuses on security and staying safe on the island.

For example, he says a returnee can now contact the police for a recommendation if they need work doing on their property, and the officers will consult a database of reputable workers.

He admitted that nationwide, the force was 4,000 officers short but that they were trying to recruit more.

But he had this message for returning residents unsure about whether to return to the island. “I still maintain that Jamaica is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Whilst we have concerns, I don’t think the concerns that we have are different to those of any other nation. So I would say Jamaica is still a safe place and your contribution to the development of this country is necessary.”

Returning to the UK, I feel reassured that the police have promised to look at my brother’s case.

And I know that even though Delroy is no longer with us, he has achieved what many people never managed to do. And that was to live his dream – albeit for a short time.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.