This thing was so far from the truth.
This was the initial response from Patrick Simmons, the former Youth and Sports Minister in the 2008-13 National Democratic Congress (NDC) government hours after the high court awarded him EC$130, 000 in damages Monday in a libel case brought against former Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell.
Simmons filed legal papers against Dr. Mitchell sometime around 2014 after the Political Leader of the main opposition New National Party (NNP) accused him of using his position to get inside information to run and purchase lands at Hope where the University had expressed interest in building a facility on the island.
There has been no indication from Dr. Mitchell on plans to appeal the judgment that was handed down by high court judge, Justice Raulston Glasgow.
In an exclusive interview with THE NEW TODAY, Simmons said the legal action that he took was not about getting money out of Dr. Mitchell who had declared before the Integrity Commission that he had accumulated wealth in the region of EC$19 million over the years.
He said he just wanted an apology to clear his name of wrongdoing and told the NNP boss that he was prepared to accept as little as $40, 000 to settle the case.
“The ball was in the man’s court (because) from the beginning I told the man (Keith Mitchell, well look all he had to do was just apologise. In the beginning the man agreed and I don’t know what happened (that he did not do it). I cautioned him (but) he didn’t expect me to do it (proceed with the case).
“I knew in my heart that what the man (Keith Mitchell) was talking about was so far from the truth and I will never get involved in something like that just because of my children.”
“I don’t want anything to go wrong in terms of my relationship with my children and my wife so these things I will stay very far from them. I had a lot of experience when I was in government where people came, giving me (all kinds of offers) … I make sure that I keep my hand clean from these things.”
Simmons said that during the actual hearing of the case before the high court judge, Dr. Mitchell admitted that he “had wrong information” on the land purchase at Hope.
He pointed out that the persons who purchased lands in Hope even years before the UWI deal came about was a former government minister in the 1980’s Pauline Andrew and some of her close friends.
“..I wasn’t even around when these lands (in Hope) were being bought – this was in the 80’s. I was in the (United) States at that time around 85, 87 around there. I was never around,” he said.
According to Simmons, it became clear during the trial that Dr. Mitchell was going after Andrew who served with him as a member of the original NNP Cabinet of Ministers under late Prime Minister Herbert Blaize in the 1984-90 period.
Andrew is known to have opposed the move by Dr. Mitchell to unseat Blaize as party leader in 1989 and aligned herself with Congress over the years against him.
“…He (Mitchell) (was) just trying to get at Pauline so he used that. All that came up in the court – he said I called Pauline (to get land) and Pauline is the one that was behind (the land deal),” he said.
The former Congress government minister disclosed that during hearings into the matter, Dr. Mitchell had brought in a battery of five lawyers to help him out in the case.
“At one time five of them were sitting there and trying to convince me that what he (Keith Mitchell) said is not that he said. So I just tell them that I had counsel with me, I have nothing more to say – so let (my) counsel interpret it,” he said.
Top Trinidad & Tobago criminal defense attorney Lawrence Ramesh Maharaj was retained by Dr. Mitchell as the lead counsel in the case.
Simmons was also high in praise for his own attorney Alban John for the manner in which he handled the case against the former Prime Minister.
“Mr John is a good man. That man drilled me – that man took me right back to school in preparation and behaving like a Principal. He really prepared me for it (the case). The bottom line, he (John) says, you just have to talk the truth and stick to the questions –don’t deviate from the questions that they (the defense lawyers) ask you, just stick to the questions.
Simmons also expressed disappointment with his former ministerial colleague in the NDC government Peter David who was expelled from NDC in 2012 and then joined forces with Mitchell and NNP for the 2013 general election.
He said that David knew that Dr. Mitchell was making misleading statements on the land issue at Hope and sat alongside him and apparently did not tell the former Prime Minister to refrain from “going down that route (because) that is not true.”
“This man (David) had no testicular fortitude to tell the man (Keith Mitchell) what he (was saying) is not true because the man was in Cabinet with me and me and he (are) supposed to be good friends.”
David is now engaged in a battle within NNP to take over the leadership of the party from the 76-year old aging former Prime Minister.