David Burt failed to inform PLP over senator’s debt row, insider says
The Premier failed to show “respect” to Progressive Labour Party MPs in the way he handled the rent scandal involving a senator, senior sources said yesterday.
A PLP insider said that the first MPs heard about Curtis Richardson’s $19,000 rent arrears to a frail elderly woman was when they read about it in The Royal Gazette — despite David Burt being told of the debt problem 20 months ago.
The source said: “Many MPs feel that this matter was not handled with respect by the Premier.
“This sort of thing would usually be discussed with MPs. It was unusual.”
Mr Burt, who faces a possible leadership challenge at the PLP delegates conference in October, has refused to answer questions over why he appointed Mr Richardson to the Senate in October 2020 — just weeks after he was made aware of his rent debt.
The source said that PLP chairwoman Lauren Bell’s backing for Mr Richardson after he resigned and insistence that his failure to pay the rent arrears was a “private” matter also raised eyebrows among the party’s MPs.
The official PLP stance is in marked contrast to comments made by the family of Mr Richardson’s former landlady, Margaret Harvey, who is in her seventies.
The family said that Mr Richardson was served notice to quit Ms Harvey’s property in March 2020 because of repeated complaints about noise from neighbours — and it was then that he stopped paying the rent.
The PLP source said: “There was widespread surprise by the PLP statement because there had been no indication that this was the line.”
Ms Harvey broke down in tears at the Supreme Court last week as she talked about the toll the long running legal battle had taken on her health.
She told the Supreme Court that Mr Richardson had warned her that if she took legal action he would win because of his “affiliation”.
The source said there was unease in the ranks of the PLP that Mr Richardson had been “throwing his weight about in this way”.
Mr Richardson brought the Supreme Court appeal in an attempt to win cancellation of an arrest warrant which was reissued against him in Magistrate’s Court on December 3, 2021, for failure to attend a hearing.
The Harvey family said Mr Richardson’s decision to go to court made the controversy public.
Ms Harvey said that the long-running legal battle had made her sick and caused her hair to fall out.
Mr Richardson failed to pay his $2,500-a-month rent for Ms Harvey’s cottage over the ten months he ignored her notice to quit.
He has only paid the Harveys $1,400 of the arrears and the financial assistance department paid $1,163 a month for him in September, October and November 2020.
The Government announced that Mr Richardson had resigned from his Senate seat and the junior national security minister’s role with effect from Monday next week.
He quit after a denunciation of his conduct by the Reverend Nicholas Tweed of St Paul AME Church in Hamilton.
The clergyman accused Mr Richardson of “intimidating” a senior.
Mr Tweed also accused the Premier and the other 29 PLP MPs of moral bankruptcy because of their silence over the controversy.
The Harvey family made the Premier aware of Mr Richardson’s spiralling arrears in May and September of 2020.
Major Marc Telemaque, the Cabinet Secretary, told the Harveys after the second e-mail that Mr Burt would “address the matter directly” with Mr Richardson.
Mr Burt appointed Mr Richardson to the Senate and junior ministries a few weeks later.
That was the last the Harvey family heard from Cabinet Office on the situation until The Royal Gazette reported the Supreme Court case.
Mr Burt offered to talk to the Harvey family about the matter six days after the case became public and sparked public outrage.
Ms Harvey’s daughter, Margot Harvey, a doctor, said Mr Burt’s move was “better late than never”.
The PLP did not respond to a request for comment.
Mr Richardson has not responded to requests for comment.
• It is The Royal Gazette’s policy not to allow comments on stories regarding court cases. As we are legally liable for any slanderous or defamatory comments made on our website, this move is for our protection as well as that of our readers.