For the first time in 38 years, there appears to be a rift among the 17 former government and military officials convicted for the 1983 bloody murder of Marxist Prime Minister Maurice Bishop in the bloody army coup on Fort Rupert on October 19, 1983.
This was highlighted in the book “The Assassination of Maurice Bishop” written by attorney-at-law, Godfrey Smith which is now in limited circulation on the island.
In the book, Smith alluded to a clear friction between the former army strongman General Hudson Austin and ex-deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard, the suspected mastermind of the coup in which Bishop was executed along with Foreign Minister Unison Whiteman, Education Minister Jacqueline Creft and Housing Minister Norris Bain.
“H.A was clearly not a fan of Bernard’s,” said Smith in the book in which he singled out Coard as the person “who must bear ultimate responsibility for the assassination of Maurice Bishop and the destruction of the Grenada Revolution”.
Bishop was killed over the issue of Joint Leadership with Coard for the party that had created the first coup d’etat in the English-speaking Caribbean with the armed overthrow of the elected Eric Gairy government on March 13, 1979.
Smith quoted General Austin as saying that in the years of struggle including many beatings of leaders of the then opposition New Jewel Movement (NJM) by the then Gairy regime that Coard was never involved in the process.
“He (Austin) said Bernard (Coard) never had to fight any struggle in Grenada, “wanted no part of H.A”.
NJM insiders told THE NEW TODAY that Austin had lukewarm relationship between 1979 and 1983 with Coard who had used his power as Minister of Finance to prevent the army boss from having use of a vehicle that he had brought into the country that was outside of the CC limit that was permitted by the People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG).
The vehicle was reportedly shipped out to Cuba for the use of then Ambassador to Cuba, Major Leon Cornwall who was among those convicted for the killing of Bishop.
Coard was the acknowledged leader of a hardline Marxist-Leninist study group known as the Organisation for Revolutionary Education and Liberation (OREL) that included the likes of fellow convicts, Cornwall, trade unionist John Chaulkie” Ventour, and Lieutenant-Colonel Liam “Owusu” James.
The burly ex-deputy Prime Minister was reportedly given an ultimatum by Bishop and other NJM leaders including the executed Whiteman to disband OREL which often attacked the NJM in underground pamphlets in order to have any relationship with the movement.
According to Austin, the OREL faction within the NJM that was led Coard had never stopped meeting.
General Austin also alluded to the role played by Coard in reversing some of the decisions that were taken especially with the handing over of the bodies of Bishop and those executed with him to family members for a funeral.
“He said that after the executions at Fort Rupert he had suggested that the bodies be handed over to the Eric La Qua funeral home but that the bodies were burnt instead.
“He said he had discussion with Coard at Fort Frederick and recommended an inquiry into what happened with the involvement of Sir Shridath Ramphal, then Commonwealth Secretary General.
“He spoke with the Governor General about setting up a provisional government but Coard later reversed everything they had discussed.
In the book, Austin denied being on Fort Frederick on October 19, and said he was informed that Bishop and the others had been killed in crossfire.
According to Smith, Austin left him in no doubt that Coard “was the Svengli behind OREL, the joint leadership idea and the Revolutionary Military Council”.
In the book, Captain Lester Redhead, another of the 17 convicted for the executions, admitted for the first time that an order had been given to executive Bishop and the others after they were recaptured on the fort.
“I know that there was an order to kill, “Smith quoted Capt. Redhead as telling him.
“He (Redhead) became somewhat emotional, shaking his head and repeating that he was tired of the “lies”. He told me that (Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Ewart) Layne gave the killing order. He claims that Layne told him, “I told f….g Abdullah to bap those men.
Last October, former Army Major, Ian St. Bernard admitted in a statement that he was tired of the “lies” and confessed that the 1983 massacre at Fort Rupert “was a failed coup resulting in the “Assassination of Maurice Bishop” and was instigated by an ultra-leftist section of The New Jewel Movement leadership impatient and drunk on ideology”.
Referring to the event as “one of the greatest tragedy in the history of our country”, the former NJM Central Committee Member who once held the post of Commissioner of Police in the ill-fated 1979-83 Grenada Revolution, charged that “ultra-leftist madness which had engulfed some of the leadership of the NJM, resulted in the Assassination of Maurice Bishop and other leaders of the Revolution”.
“I want to die with a clear conscience,” said St. Bernard who was originally charged in connection with the gruesome murders but was freed at the Preliminary Inquiry stage of the Murder trial.
Smith said in the book that Redhead arranged for him to meet with three of the soldiers who were part of the execution squad – Cosmos Richardson, Vincent Joseph and Andy Mitchell.
He indicated that Mitchell was the only one who did not want to rehash the bloody events on the fort.
He said that both Joseph and Richardson fingered Layne as the one who gave the order to kill Bishop and the other revolutionary leaders.
In the book, Smith wrote: “He (Joseph) too confirmed that Layne had given the order to kill. His recollection corroborated Cosmos’ that, after they had marched Maurice and the others up to the parade square where the prison cells were located, Abdullah was summoned to take a call and when he returned he ordered the executions”.
Smith also had an engagement with Abdullah about his role in the executions and the former Muslim maintained his consistent position over the years that there was no order to execute the Prime Minister and the others.
“He (Abdullah) did not know that at the time of our interview I had already spoken to Cosmos and Vincent. When I shared with him their narrative that he had ordered the executions by firing squad, he simply cast his eyes downward and said nothing. I felt a bit lousy about ambushing him like that but he took it in stride and said he was sticking to his version.
The Belize-born attorney-at-law also interviewed Manley Phillip, the current owner and operator of Pam’s Electrical on Green Street in St. George who confirmed that Abdullah had taken a phone call from Layne who was on Fort Frederick when Bishop and the others were recaptured.
THE NEW TODAY understands that Phillip was a demolition expert with the now disbanded People’s Revolutionary Army (PRA).
Manley said: “He had been in the communications room at Fort Rupert and had answered the incessant ringing of the telephone. He said he recognised Layne’s voice asking to speak to Abdullah. Shortly afterwards the sound of the machine gun fired erupted from the parade square.
‘When I presented this to Layne, he denied it and said, “I think Manley is putting himself on the spot to verify the speculation that there was communication with Abdullah and he is motivated by spite he currently harbours against me.
“It struck me as odd that that Manley, who had given no evidence at the (Maurice Bishop Murder) trial, would wait 36 years to get back at Layne when he could have used this information against him long ago.
Smith further wrote in the book: “Cosmos and Vincent’s narrative corroborate Manley’s recollection that Abdullah was summoned to receive a call. It is difficult to conceive who, if not Layne, the operational commander who ordered the troops to retake the fort using lethal force if necessary, could have called Abdullah away at that critical juncture. And if it was an innocent call, Abdullah could simply have said so.
The book referred to Layne as the one among the so-called Grenada Seventeen Bishop killers who had “the most vitriolic, full of contempt and hatred” for the executed Prime Minister.
Layne who pursued legal studies but has been turned down to practice law in local courts has rebranded himself as “Joseph Layne” and appears on a weekly programme with the Grenada Broadcasting Network (GBN) which focuses on a number of legal issues.