General Hudson Austin has identified two of the former top brass in the army, Lieutenant-Colonel Ewart Layne and Major Leon “Bogo” Cornwall along with Ex-Deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard as the ones who took the decision to put Prime Minister Maurice Bishop under house arrest amidst a power struggle for control of the New Jewel Movement-led 1979-83 Grenada Revolution.
In an exclusive 3-hour interview with THE NEW TODAY, the ex-army commander said he first heard that Bishop was ordered not to leave his home at a top party meeting in Butler House, where the office of the Prime Minister was then located.
He said that he had met with both Layne and Cornwall at the army headquarters on Fort Rupert and the discussion ended with him going to engage soldiers in a discussion and the two informing him that they were going to see Coard at his home at Mt Wheldale, which was adjacent to Bishop’s official residence.
According to Austin, it was clear to him after that Coard, Layne, and Cornwall had a plan to deal with Bishop who had reneged on a decision taken at the level of the Central Committee to share the leadership of the NJM with his deputy.
“When they go by Bernard … the two of them go and put Maurice under house arrest with Bernard’s instigation,” he said.
“I get to know that afterwards – it is them two that go and do it,” he added.
The General stated that the reason given for Bishop’s house arrest was a rumour that surfaced in the country that Coard and his late Jamaican wife, Phyllis were planning to kill the Prime Minister.
He said that some elements within the NJM took the position that because of the rumour that both Bishop and Coard would be restricted to their homes while the Security Forces then led by Lieutenant-Colonel Liam “Owusu” James, a pro-Coard ally, were investigating the source of the rumour that was later pinned on the Prime Minister.
However, the General noted that Coard was allowed, “to go all over the place” while Bishop was confined in communicado at Mt. Wheldale and his phone lines were also cut.
“You see the trick,” said General Austin who was known to be supportive of Bishop prior to the October 1983 crisis within the NJM.
Austin along with Coard, James, Layne, Cornwall, former Mobilisation Minister Selwyn Strachan and several top government and army figures were convicted in a local court for the killing of Bishop and his close aides on Fort Rupert.
On October 19, 1983, a large crowd of pro-Bishop supporters led by executed Foreign Affairs Minister, Unison Whiteman pushed aside soldiers and stormed into Mt. Wheldale to free the Prime Minister.
There are reports that Bishop and Whiteman embraced and the Prime Minister then turned to Lieutenant Callistus “Iman Abdullah” Bernard who was in charge of the squad of soldiers keeping him under house arrest, and said that the people came for him and he was going with them.
Preparations were being made to take the Prime Minister to the St. George’s Market Square where he was expected to address supporters on the internal power struggle with Coard and his clique for control of the Grenada Revolution.
Investigation carried out by THE NEW TODAY revealed that on reaching the top of Market Hill that a former bodyguard was able to convince the Prime Minister to head for Fort Rupert instead.
Bishop is said to have told close aides on reaching inside the Operations Room of the army at Fort Rupert that the Revolution will continue but without Coard.
Two of Bishop’s close allies, Whiteman and trade unionist Vincent Noel were then engaged in a heated telephone communication with Major Ian St Bernard who had telephoned to ask for discussions to continue with the Coard clique to resolve the internal crisis within the NJM leadership.
Whiteman and Noel rejected the offer and instructed St. Bernard to go and inform Layne, James and Cornwall to surrender to the nearest police station.
Within minutes, Layne took the decision to dispatch three armoured cars to Fort Rupert to recapture it from Bishop and his supporters.
The Prime Minister was taken into custody and then lined up against a wall on the Top Square of the fort along with Whiteman, Education Minister Jacqueline Creft, Housing Minister Norris Bain and businessmen, Evelyn “Brat” Bullen, Evelyn Maitland and Keith “Pumphead” Hayling and machine gunned to death.
General Austin has maintained that the decision to execute Bishop and Whiteman and the others should be placed squarely at the feet of Coard, Layne, Cornwall, James and others who were members of a secretive cell group within the NJM known as the Organisation of Revolutionary Education and Liberation (OREL).