Robberies, killings spur gun law talks

Another broad daylight robbery in the centre of George Town’s tourism district Friday and the Islands’ seventh homicide of this year have local business leaders urging government to enact stricter gun laws and to propose the mandatory use of closed-circuit television cameras to catch crooks in the act.

Residents walk in solidarity against violence at the annual Silent Witness March.

Residents walk in solidarity against violence at the annual Silent Witness March.

Police detectives had reported no arrests in Friday’s Margaritaville robbery or in the Tuesday night killing of Fabian Reid in Newlands as of press time.

Leader of Government Business McKeeva Bush spoke earlier in the year about imposing harsher sentences for gun-related crime. Currently the Cayman Islands has a mandatory minimum 10-year sentence for firearms convictions. Those sentences can be reduced to seven years in cases where exceptional circumstances apply.

‘Obviously a lot of thought has to go into it, but when we’ve got a shooting that happens in a nightclub with 150 people inside including ten experienced security officers – it’s a bit of a cause for concern, I think,’ Chamber of Commerce President Stuart Bostock said during a recent interview.

Mr. Bostock was referencing another recent killing where 35-year-old Carlo Webster was gunned down inside the Next Level nightclub. Three men were arrested in connection with that incident, but all three have since been released.

Chamber officials have not suggested what a more adequate mandatory sentence for firearms offences might be.

‘I personally would like to see it increased,’ Mr. Bostock said, adding that some steps could be taken in court proceedings to make it easier for witnesses to give evidence in trials.

‘Are there ways to reduce the reliance on those witnesses?’ he said. ‘My understanding is that other jurisdictions have introduced legislation to reduce that reliance.’

One way to do that would be for businesses to install closed-circuit television monitors, particularly in downtown George Town. Mr. Bostock indicated some businesses have already taken such steps, but others have been unable to simply because of the cost.

That concern, according to Chamber Chief Executive Officer Wil Pineau, may be lessening as gun crimes increase.

‘The big thing that we would want to do is come up with some connectivity throughout a system for CCTV cameras,’ Mr. Pineau said. ‘You have to develop a national plan for CCTV. But the business community is so concerned at this point; I think they would assist the police in raising money for those efforts.

‘Obviously, many businesses will contribute. If we don’t bring public safety under control, this country is going to suffer.’

Magaritaville heist

Two armed men held up Margaritaville shortly after it opened on Friday morning.

The robbers, one armed with a gun and the other with a knife, made their way to the office on the upper floor and ordered the female accountant at gunpoint to hand over cash.

The amount of money the robbers made off with in the 8.20am hold up is unknown. The men escaped through a back door that leads on to Cardinall Avenue.

Two people, the accountant and a manager, were in the office at the time. The manager was ordered to lie on the floor and was told that if he moved, he would be shot.

No one was hurt in the robbery.

One employee, who works in the Margaritaville shop, said one of the men entered through the ground floor shop and had asked if the upstairs bar was open because he wanted a cup of coffee.

‘I asked the bartender if the bar was open yet, but it wasn’t, so I told the man that he could get coffee at Cafe Del Sol,’ said the employee, who is not being identified in order to protect the individual from retaliation.

The man made his way upstairs and was joined by the second man who is believed to have gained access to the building through another entrance.

The robbery took only a few minutes, according to a second employee, who works in Margaritaville’s downstairs store.

‘One minute this guy was looking for coffee and a few minutes later the police were here,’ the employee said.

Few staff members were on the premises when the robbery occurred because it was so early.

The adjacent Island Plaza shopping centre was closed for about half an hour with police tape cordoning off the entrances while police searched the premises. Customers were asked to leave the stores in the shopping centre while police searched the vicinity.

Police questioned staff of the store and bar throughout the morning.

The Margaritaville incident occurred less than a month after another mid-morning robbery at the Quik Cash store on Shedden Road.

In that incident, two men with guns entered the store just after 10am, 23 September. Police said one of the suspects made a customer lay down on the floor and threatened the store clerk with a gun.

Hundreds of cruise ship tourists were walking through the area at the time of the robbery.

Police did not state whether the two mid-day incidents might have been connected.

7th killing

The Cayman Islands saw its seventh killing of 2009 last week, with the shooting death of Fabian Reid along Windward Road in the Newlands area.

That matches last year’s record total of seven homicides – believed to be the most ever seen in one year for the Cayman Islands. A woman was also injured in the Tuesday night shooting.

Police detectives were looking into the possibility that the incident may have been a retaliatory attack.

Witnesses in the area of the shooting said they heard a number of shots and what sounded like a vehicle running off the road around 10pm Tuesday. One described a gunman ‘pumping shots into a car’ after it has swerved off the street and into the nearby canal.