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Family claim they were fleeced of land

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Charles Brown, right, who presented evidence to the Commission of Inquiry into Historic Losses of Land in Bermuda, supported by his brother George (From Facebook)
A slide from Charles Brown’s presentation to the Commission of Inquiry into Historic Losses of Land in Bermuda alleged to show the “players and acquaintances” involved in disputed transactions of land (From Facebook)
The nieces and nephews of John Augustus Alexander Virgil who are “still seeking justice”, the Commission of Inquiry heard (From Facebook)

Lawyers and politicians – including two former premiers – were among a group of “players and acquaintances” who profited from dodgy land deals, the Commission of Inquiry into Historic Losses of Land has been told.

Charles Brown listed Sir John Swan and Sir Edward “ET” Richards, former United Bermuda Party premiers; David Wilkinson, who was a Speaker of the House of Assembly; and others whom he claimed “worked together to deprive” his relatives of “what was rightfully theirs”.

Mr Brown said it was his position that “there is extensive and conclusive evidence that exposes the outcome of a conspiracy to hatch and execute a clumsy plan to deceive, misrepresent, steal property and profit”.

He added: “This plan, with official misconduct, greed and deceit at its core, used a network of formal and informal business relationships, ignorance, arrogance and a callous disregard for law and order in order to carry out a set of fraudulent activities.

“Based on our evidence, it is clear that the objective of the plan was to complete an illegal land grab.”

Mr Brown is the brother of the late Progressive Labour Party MP Walton Brown, who campaigned for an inquiry into land losses.

He appeared last Wednesday to represent seven beneficiaries of John Augustus Alexander Virgil’s will.

Mr Brown said they were all nieces and nephews of Mr Virgil, who died in 1972, and included Mr Brown’s mother.

He told the commission the claim related to about four acres of land in the Spring Benny area of Sandys.

He said: “Today I am representing my ancestors and speaking on behalf of those who sacrificed and participated in this struggle.”

Mr Brown said: “That this matter is only now formally being presented to an adjudicating body is perhaps more a function of who is involved and not what was perpetrated, its gravity or its consequences.

“The injustice we speak of today spans generations and I, as the messenger, I carry a message on behalf of many before me.

“Addressing the commission today is a significant milestone. Our message is from our ancestors of 1885 and this is a step towards some measure of closure after tireless efforts in pursuit of justice after almost 50 years.”

Mr Brown added that the beneficiaries had “critical documents and supporting evidence” – including title deeds from 1885 – that backed their claim to the land.

He delivered a presentation of 61 slides to the Commission and told the panel that the family had “issues” with transactions made in 1961-62 and 1968-69.

The group highlighted by Mr Brown included the Bank of NT Butterfield, which he said was the sole executor of Mr Virgil’s will.

Law firms Cox Hallett Wilkinson and Appleby – as they are now known – were on the list.

Lawyers were said to have included Eric Jones, Robert Motyer and Arnold Francis, a founder and first Parliamentary leader of the Progressive Labour Party.

Russell Levi Pearman, an estate agent and parliamentarian; Leslie Earl Ming, said to be an associate at John W Swan Ltd; and John Virgil, from Somerset – a first cousin of Mr Virgil’s – were also alleged to be part of the 12-strong group.

Mr Brown told the inquiry: “We submit that these players … worked together to deprive these people, Uncle John, of his wishes and his seven nieces and nephews what was rightfully theirs, as outlined in his will of May 21, 1964.”

He claimed that Mr Jones, Mr Motyer and Mr Virgil’s cousin “conspired … to defraud” Mr Virgil of land.

Mr Brown said that police, who investigated the second transaction, concluded signatures were forged and documents were withheld.

He told the Commission that land was supposedly transferred from Mr Virgil to Mr Pearman for £7,000 in 1969.

Mr Brown claimed that the property was sold on the same day to Emmanuel Augustus for £18,000.

Commissioners heard it was then sold to Sir John in 1970 for £60,000.

Mr Brown said there was a “flurry of conveyances” after that between Sir John and Mr Ming.

A slide showed several conveyances of land apparently traded between the pair on November 4 and 5, 1970 and that Mr Francis acted as the lawyer.

Other transactions were said to have happened on December 28 and 30 of the same year, when Sir Edward was the lawyer.

Sir John said at the weekend: “I bought the property from a Mr Augustus and went through the legal procedures of buying a piece of land.

“Then the claim came years later that I had received the land in a way that was inappropriate, so it went before the courts three times … I paid the legal fees.

“I said, if they continue I will not be paying any further legal fees, I think you have a right to your justice but the courts have decided that I did no wrong.

“Then the matter was left alone until it was brought up during this process.”

Sir John said that Mr Ming worked for him and the transactions between the pair were “a normal way that real estate was done at that time”.

Norma Wade-Miller, the commission chairwoman, said that notices would be issued to all of the organisations and individuals – or their descendants in the case of those who had died – in the group highlighted by Mr Brown, which would offer the opportunity for them to respond.

Walton Brown died last year and it was said at the time that the anticipated commission would form part of the MP and author’s legacy.

The inquiry continues today, when Mr Brown and other members of his family are expected to give more evidence.

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Published November 30, 2020 at 10:59 am (Updated December 01, 2020 at 10:41 am)

Family claim they were fleeced of land

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