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Couple file police complaint in row over access to home at golf club

Emergency meeting: David Burch, the Minister of Public Works (File photograph)

The elderly couple fighting to keep open an access road to their home in St George have filed a police complaint, The Royal Gazette understands.

Shirley and Gardene Gibbons took the action after two men trespassed on to their property and sawed down a series of bollards placed across a pathway that runs through the Gibbons’ land.

The couple erected the barricade last Thursday night, blocking golfers playing on a neighbouring golf course from driving golf carts from the second green to the third tee.

But on Friday morning, two unidentified men were filmed removing the poles.

The golf course and St Regis hotel are operated by resort giant Hotelco Bermuda Holdings, which leases the land from the Government.

Mr and Mrs Gibbons erected the barriers after the hotel installed a metal gate across another section of the road, which they had previously used to access their home on Secretary Lane. The Government granted the hotelier planning permission to install the gate.

Despite last week’s escalation in the long-running dispute, a lawyer representing the Gibbons is hopeful that a resolution will be reached.

Phil Perinchief spoke after meeting David Burch, the Minister of Public Works, on Saturday.

Mr Perinchief said: “The talks with the minister and permanent secretary Rochester were direct, at times terse, but nevertheless encouraging.

“We put forward a clear understanding of our clients’ position and now await the passing of a reasonable timespan for a substantive response from the minister and government.”

In a statement last night a ministry spokesman said: “The minister has met with both sides to this dispute in recent days and on behalf of the Government continues to work with everyone involved to find an amicable solution to this longstanding issue.”

The Royal Gazette understands that Colonel Burch called the emergency meeting after news reports highlighted the plight of Mr and Mrs Gibbons.

The minister may also have been spurred into action after government backbenchers Renée Ming and Lovitta Foggo addressed the issue in the House of Assembly on Friday night.

In a withering attack on Progressive Labour Party colleagues in the Cabinet, Ms Ming said: “I believe I have a message tonight. I rise tonight on a sad note and one that may even be unpopular.

“This government – my government – said that seniors are a priority. This government – my government – was incensed by years of heartache and strife with land grabs – so much so that when we came into power we immediately put a commission in place to address, to investigate land grabs in this country and what people who look like me have been through.

“My government today has involved itself in a land lock situation. Two of my constituents aged 93 and 80, fighting for their land.

“We have to be serious and talk the talk because we can’t say that we would be upset with what a previous administration did in terms of land grabs when we’re doing the same thing.

“Governments are supposed to protect their people and I would hope that our government – my government – would do that – protect its people.

“We talk about bullying – imagine how they feel being bullied. Mr Gibbons is sharp as can be because he said today ‘nobody is taking my land’, but he shouldn’t have to be saying that. They shouldn’t be struggling in their minds trying to work out what their government is doing to them.

“When government technical officers go out we need to be careful what we do and sometimes the easiest solution is to say that we made a mistake, let’s work on fixing it.

“But what we don’t do is 18 months of terror to two seniors and their families.

“I’ve only been a member of one political party – the Bermuda Progressive Labour Party. And I know my party can do better and I am sure and hopeful and pray that the next time I rise to my feet on this matter is with a positive outcome.”

Ms Foggo also spoke out in support of Ms Ming.

She said: “When you are doing the right thing for the right reasons, one never has to stand up in fear or out of concern that it’s not the right thing to say.

“We are standing to speak on what’s right. I could not allow my colleague to stand and speak on a matter that in my opinion is so egregious without lending a voice as well.

“If we think that people, through government vehicles are not exercising their duties as they should then it's our role to point it out.”

A spokesperson for Hotelco said: “Hotelco Bermuda Holding is a tenant of the Government of Bermuda.

“We were granted a lease of the St Regis Bermuda Resort property in 2015, in which it included the old St George's Golf Course. We believe that in the past few days, the Government has been working on a satisfactory solution for the Gibbon's Family".

• This story has been updated to include a comment from Hotelco.