Commission of Inquiry into historical land losses: the findings
A total of 56 recommendations were made under six headings in a report by the Commission of Inquiry into Historic Land Losses.
The panel, headed by retired Puisne Judge Norma Wade-Miller, examined alleged land losses said to have happened “through theft of property, dispossession of property, adverse possession claims and/or other such unlawful means”.
The recommendations were based on evidence heard or presented between May 8, 2020 and May 19 this year.
Tucker’s Town and St David’s Island
The commission found the actions that led to expropriations in Tucker’s Town in the 1920s and St David’s in the 1940s were lawful “as they were based upon provisions of various statutory instruments that received Parliamentary approval”.
But the report added: “At the same time, the CoI concluded that the procedures adopted in dealing with the expropriations were in many instances irregular because the bodies established to oversee the expropriations process exercised their power in an unfair and inequitable manner.”
The report said that the Government should establish a system to determine if payments for land at the time were fair and create a scheme to allow compensation to be made if appropriate.
The commission recommended research to establish how much expropriated land was bought by the Mid-Ocean Club, Rosewood Tucker’s Point and any others in the Tucker’s Town area as a result of the resale of dispossessed lands by the Bermuda Development Company Limited.
It also suggested that Clearwater Beach could be “renamed to give recognition to the people for the losses they suffered”.
The report recommended that the Government should issue an apology and acknowledge the “unjust loss of lands” to the descendants of people affected.
It added that the history of the expropriations in Tucker’s Town and St David’s should be memorialised through monuments and education.
Marsden Methodist Cemetery
The commission heard that the Marsden Methodist Memorial Cemetery was on land now owned by Rosewood Bermuda’s Tucker’s Point Golf Club, in Tucker’s Town.
Church representatives based a claim on problems and lack of maintenance at the site.
The commission recommended that the Government should ensure that solutions agreed between the two parties were carried through.
These included the creation of a way for families and guests to get to the site, the redirection of part of the driving range to minimise the risk of golf balls reaching the graveyard area and the installation of a canopy net.
Historic land losses in other parts of Bermuda
• The commission’s report highlighted that the late Agatha Richardson Burgess was a “well-respected member of the Hamilton Parish community”.
Property was bought from her by compulsory purchase in 1956, when the Government wanted to acquire land to build and develop a playing field for Francis Patton School.
A conveyance showed that Ms Burgess was paid £1,000 and received a parcel of land.
The report said “to this date, access to Mrs Burgess’s property has been blocked by fencing” and that part of the school was built through a requested right of way to property that she had continued to own.
It recommended that “Government ensures that the stated intention of the Attorney-General in 1956 to grant a right of way … be carried out”.
The report highlighted that two grandchildren of Ms Burgess argued that it “should have been named after the Bascome family whose ancestors gave up their land for construction of the school”.
The commission recommended that “Government changes the name of Francis Patton Primary School to Agatha Richardson Burgess Primary School”.
• A case was made on behalf of the beneficiaries of the estate of John Augustus Alexander Virgil, including by Charles Brown – the brother of the late MP Walton Brown, who championed the need for a Commission of Inquiry into land losses.
It related to land in the Spring Benny area of Sandys.
The Commission recommended that the Government should give “due regard to a mechanism being established to consider an award of compensation for loss through theft of property, dispossession of property or such other unlawful or irregular means by which land was lost in Bermuda”.
The report said: “The recommendation is being made acknowledging that this falls outside of the remit of the CoI.”
It added that the office of the Commissioner of Police was invited to consider locating files linked to a complaint made about the estate of Mr Virgil and “having this investigation file reviewed with a view to considering next administrative steps in light of the fresh and compelling evidence”.
The report said: “Further consideration should be given by the Commissioner of Police in the interests of justice and with a view to rewriting the unsavoury history of the matter.
“But more so, the role of the office of the Commissioner of Police in 1975, that is, must be revisited to correct that office's glaring omission 45 years ago by failing to obtain the requisite expertise from a document examiner at that time rather than closing the file.
“The COI acknowledges that the likelihood of reconstructing this file is only remotely possible.”
The commission added that the Government should consider “making an award for compensation through the appropriate mechanism of the state machinery to the beneficiaries … in light of the fact that an agent of the state, the Central Planning Authority, played an integral role, tantamount to a corruption enabling mechanism facilitating the theft of land.”
• The commission heard a case about the estate of Emelius Daniel Darrell, who owned several properties in Southampton.
They recommended that the Government should order a civil and planning assessment to check and “correct, where necessary” the survey, planning and registration concerns raised by the claimants.
The report recommended that the Government should consider “changing the name of Riviera Estate Road to Wellington Drive in keeping with the land owned by George Wellington Darrell and known as Wellington Lands in 1964”; as well as ”changing the name of Sunnyside Park Road to Emelius Drive East and Emelius Drive West“.
The commissioners recommended that the Government should look at the creation of a permanent mechanism to review historical land loss claims with the aim of setting up a legal framework to allow for remedies or compensation.
The report said that the Government should carry out an inventory of all public property and “identify any cases where public property has been appropriated by private owners”.
It added: “Any incidences of similar encroachment of public property should be addressed and property subsequently returned to public ownership.”
The commission recommended the establishment of a “truth and reconciliation commission with the remit of exploring segregation and race in Bermuda to avoid unfair practices being implemented to the disadvantage of any group”.
Recommendations included that the Government “amends or modernises all Bermuda laws to restrict the number of years a corporate entity is able to hold Bermuda lands”.
The report said that an amendment to legislation should be made “to include a ‘first right of refusal’ option for dispossessed owners if the original purpose for which the land, or any part thereof, was dispossessed fails, for whatever reason”.
Private legislation / Other statutory mechanisms
The commission recommended that a “statutory mechanism” should be introduced to, among other things, “create a heritage trust … for the purpose of holding land or any other assets in order to make reparations or monetary distributions to the descendants of dispossessed landowners” or others “as may be determined”.
It said that an independent land tribunal should also be set up "to deal with all outstanding legacy issues involving historical losses of land in Bermuda“.
* To read the report or recommendations in full, click on the PDF under “Related Media”.