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Governor ponders posthumous pardon for Monk

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Case research: John Rankin (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

The Governor has carried out “extensive” research into whether a posthumous pardon should be granted to a pastor who was thrown into jail after he wrote about the unfair treatment of Jamaican workers in Bermuda more than a century ago.

A Government House spokeswoman said last week that John Rankin was still considering the request, made by David Burt, the Premier, in the House of Assembly a year ago.

She added: “Since receiving the request for a posthumous pardon for the Reverend Monk, the Governor has carried out extensive research into the matter and continues to consider it in line with his responsibilities under the Constitution.

“When a decision has been made on the request, it will be duly announced.”

Mr Burt added: “I have discussed this matter with the Governor regularly and my hope is that we will have a decision soon.”

The Reverend Charles Vinton Monk was locked up for libel after he exposed poor conditions endured by people brought to Bermuda to work on the Royal Naval Dockyard.

David Burt, the Premier, told the House of Assembly at the time that the clergyman and journalist went through a criminal trial “laced with shocking bias”.

He asked the Governor to consult the Advisory Council on the Prerogative of Mercy on a posthumous pardon for the pastor.

The Governor can grant a pardon to anyone convicted in a Bermuda court after consultation with the advisory committee.

Mr Monk, an African Methodist Episcopal Church minister and journalist from America, who lived in Somerset, was found guilty of criminal libel in the early 1900s after he highlighted the conditions of labourers brought from the West Indies to expand the naval base.

Mr Burt told MPs last year that the pastor “witnessed harsh and terrible conditions imposed on Jamaican workers”.

He said then: “In keeping with the doctrine of the AME Church and its commitment to social justice, Reverend Monk took to writing about these conditions and exposed the company responsible for them in the hope that this would bring about a change to the benefit of the workers.

“Instead of accepting the truth of the obvious state of the workforce, the rampant disease and dangerous working conditions at the site, the principals of the company saw to it that Monk was arrested and charged with criminal libel.”

The Premier said Mr Monk was jailed “for simply reporting the truth”.

He added: “A review of the case indicates that the whole affair was laced with shocking bias.”

The House heard the pastor was unrepresented in court after his counsel died the day before the original trial date, amid speculation he was poisoned.

Sir Brownlow Gray, the trial judge, was the father of prosecutor Reginald Gray and the pair were also related to the assistant justice.

The Crown called only two witnesses compared with more than 100 summonsed to defend the accuracy of Mr Monk’s reports.

Mr Burt’s request was backed by church leaders including the Reverend Nicholas Tweed, pastor of St Paul AME Church in Hamilton.

Mr Tweed said the Premier had “both the historical understanding of the importance of this case and also the moral courage to correct an historic wrong”.

The granting of full and free, or unconditional, pardon to people after death is rare and there have been only four individual pardons granted in the UK since 1945.

These included Timothy Evans, who was hanged in 1950 for the murder of his 14-month-old daughter. He had also been charged with strangling his wife but the case never went to court.

He was pardoned after serial killer John Christie, his landlord in London at the time of the child’s death, admitted the murders in the wake of his conviction and death sentence three years later for the killing of six other women.

Mr Evans was pardoned in 1966.

Computer pioneer and code breaker Alan Turing, who played a major role in breaking the German Enigma code in the Second World War and made a huge contribution to the Allied victory in the conflict, received a posthumous pardon for his 1952 conviction for gross indecency.

He was arrested after he had an affair with a 19-year-old man and the conviction meant that he lost security clearance to continue his top secret work on code breaking at Britain’s signals intelligence agency GCHQ.

Mr Turing’s rehabilitation paved the way for a law change that gave pardons, many of them posthumous, to thousands of gay and bisexual men who were cautioned or convicted under historical legislation that outlawed gay sex.

Freedom Fighters: From Monk to Mazumbo by Ira Philip (File image).
David Burt, the Premier (File photograph by Akil Simmons)