Heavenly Blessings closure order lifted

  • Happy ending: Vernesha Symonds, the owner of Heavenly Blessings Nursery and Preschool (File photograph)

    Happy ending: Vernesha Symonds, the owner of Heavenly Blessings Nursery and Preschool (File photograph)

  • Order lifted: health minister Kim Wilson (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

    Order lifted: health minister Kim Wilson (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

A nursery school shut down after a 12-month-old boy was found to have a serious head injury was told yesterday it can reopen following the conclusion of a police investigation.

Prosecutors found there was “insufficient evidence to support any criminal liability” on the part of Heavenly Blessings Nursery and Preschool, in Pembroke, which was closed by the Government last October.

The owner of the daycare centre, Vernesha Symonds, said she felt “vindicated” that the order was lifted after police inquiries closed without charges against her, the nursery or staff.

But her lawyer said yesterday that the shutdown was imposed too quickly and preschool workers had suffered since its closure.

Sharon Rampersad-Ible added: “My client and her employees feel vindicated. It has been a rough 6½ months.

“They have had their names sullied in mud and have suffered immeasurable damage emotionally, financially and professionally. They have had death threats levied against them.

“From the inception of this unfortunate incident, they have maintained their innocence but the powers that be saw fit to take drastic measures.”

Ms Rampersad-Ible said Kim Wilson, the health minister, wrote to Ms Symonds to inform her that the closure order of October 30, 2018, was lifted.

She added: “As Mrs Symonds’s attorney, I still maintain that the action taken by the Government was premature in nature and certainly favoured only one side.”

She said: “But, more importantly, it meant that nine families were placed on the breadline.

“The repercussions on the owner and her employees were obviously never considered, or, if they were, they were deemed to be secondary.

“So justice was served in the end but at what cost? A small business is now closed permanently since this late in the school year parents will be unwilling to move.”

Detectives launched an investigation last year after Department of Child and Family Services staff reported that an infant received treatment for a head injury at the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital before he was flown overseas by air ambulance for further treatment.

Michael Weeks, then minister of social development and sport, decided to close the nursery as a precaution on October 30.

He said at the time that it was too early to confirm if the child’s injury had been caused at the daycare centre, which he did not identify but was named by Ms Wilson at a press conference a few days later

A police spokesman said the case had been “closed pending any new developments”.

He added: “A completed case file was submitted to the Department of Public Prosecutions and, following review, it was determined that there is insufficient evidence to support any criminal liability and/or to pursue this matter through the criminal courts.”

Ms Wilson confirmed the closure order was lifted last Friday.

Ms Symonds earlier launched legal action against the Minister of Social Development and Sport over the closure order.

The Supreme Court held a hearing on the civil case in February, when a judge heard that the nursery owner was operating without a licence.

However, Ms Rampersad-Ible disputed the claim.

She told the court: “She did have a licence. The only thing that was left to do ... was collect it.”

Brian Moodie, the lawyer for the plaintiff, the Attorney-General’s Chambers, pointed out fees had to be paid before licences were issued.

Ms Rampersad-Ible admitted that Ms Symonds had not paid any fees and, after speaking to her client, withdrew the appeal.

She said yesterday that Ms Symonds had no plans to reopen the nursery at present.

A Ministry of Health spokeswoman said: “Even though the closure order for Heavenly Blessings was originally issued by the Minister responsible for Child and Family Services, this responsibility has now shifted to the Minister of Health.

“Under Section 74 of the Children Act 1998, the minister may issue an order to an operator of a day care centre directing them to cease to operate the day care centre within such time as may be specified on the order and giving the reasons for their decision.

“In this case the closure order was for the duration of the police investigation.”

The spokeswoman added that the nursery’s licence had expired and that anyone who wanted to open a daycare centre had to make an application in line with relevant legislation.

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Published May 15, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated May 15, 2019 at 6:38 am)

Heavenly Blessings closure order lifted

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