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Burt not satisfied with protest findings

House debate: David Burt, the Premier, addressed MPs on Friday (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

An attempt was made to “cover up” the people responsible for “violence” when protesters were pepper-sprayed outside Parliament, the Premier has claimed.

David Burt said his government would keep pursuing the truth about what happened during a demonstration against a public-private deal with Canadian firm Aecon to build a new airport.

He told the House of Assembly: “This was actions of violence which was perpetrated against Bermuda and there is an attempt to cover up the persons who are responsible.

“That is my view, and until this Parliament and or the Government — the people’s representatives — are given information to the contrary, that will remain my view.”

The Premier was speaking during a debate about a parliamentary joint select committee report, which revealed that police were ordered to pepper-spray protesters, in the early hours of last Saturday.

Commissioner of Police Stephen Corbishley, who took over the helm nearly 20 months after the events, said later that was a “mischaracterisation” and each officer who used the spray made an independent decision to do so based on perceived threat levels.

Mr Burt told MPs last Saturday that members of the JSC “worked under incredibly difficult conditions” and he said “it cannot be” that a joint select committee with full investigative powers “is denied access to critical documents”.

The Premier claimed: “We were denied the truth because of an active attempt, it seems, to conceal and cover up the facts and to keep them from a parliamentary committee, which was empanelled by both Houses, to investigate and try to bring an end to this chapter.

“That is the great disappointment, because the report speaks to members who were called and were happy to finally have the opportunity and chance to tell their story, contrasted completely by a Bermuda Police Service that felt no need whatsoever to co-operate.”

Mr Burt said the protest was for transparency over the airport contract.

The Premier added: “That day would have been a dark day had the House have sat but it was a darker day because of what took place.”

He also referred to an unanswered question about the identity of any “platinum commander” on the day of the protest and he claimed that “every time the question was asked of the new police commissioner, it was duck and weave”.

He added: “I, and the members of this government who were there on that day, will never forget, we will never allow for history to be whitewashed and we will continue to try to find the people who were responsible.”

The Premier said: “It is my thought and opinion that this is a very elaborate cover-up and somebody doesn’t want to know the truth of what happened this day, and it is our responsibility to continue to search for that truth, on behalf of all those persons who will for ever remember the trauma which they experienced on December 2.”

Mr Corbishley said this month that the JSC report suggested he and the BPS “were uncooperative with its inquiry and that I myself ‘interfered’ with the process”.

He added then: “I disagree with this suggestion and would highlight the extent of the material that was provided by the BPS, including the former Commissioner’s detailed written statement and the attendance of the former Deputy Commissioner to give oral evidence, together with my own offers to the committee.”

Mr Corbishley said: “The PJSC received extensive written submissions from the former Police Commissioner, Michael DeSilva, and heard evidence from the former Deputy Commissioner Paul Wright.

“Material in regards to the command of the operation was additionally provided.”

In Parliament on Friday, Michael Dunkley, a One Bermuda Alliance MP, asked why Mr Burt was not interviewed by the committee and said the Premier made a “robocall” tape that could have been issued to “hundreds, potentially thousands of people”.

Scott Pearman, the shadow legal affairs minister, added later that his recollection of the events started on December 1, 2016.

He explained: “My wife and I came home to our house to find on our phone answering machine the melodic voice of the former Leader of the Opposition, now the Premier, David Burt on my machine, telling me what I should do, the next day, on December 2.

“So there were robocalls, I know that because I heard it.

“It was the Premier’s voice, I know that because I heard it.”