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CoP Gary Griffith during yesterday’s TTPS press briefing at the Police Administration Building, Port-of-Spain.

An elaborate and well-orchestrated jailbreak plot was being planned for months by a notorious gang within the walls of the Maximum Security Prison (MSP) in Arouca, with alleged support and involvement from several law enforcement officials. These officials are allegedly being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to assist, according to the findings of a joint team of senior prison officials and the intelligence arms of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service.

Long before last week’s find by police of weapons and explosives outside the Maximum Security Prison in Arouca, evidence of a jailbreak plot was contained in an intelligence report prepared in mid-May entitled, “Information relating to planned prison break,” which Guardian Media saw first-hand a few weeks ago during an investigation that started in April.

Two senior prison sources said, “This alleged plan to break out of MSP was communicated to several senior law enforcement officials close to three months ago.”

However, although the information had been brought to the attention of the various authorities, including the Ministry of National Security, no action has been taken to date.

Intelligence sources in the Ministry of National Security revealed that some of the players involved–including police and prison officers–appear to be acting on behalf of “a big man inside.”

Prison officers have expressed fear and concerns about the jailbreak being planned right under their noses by a notorious prisoner.

The arms –which included four firearms, ammunition, C-4 explosives and detonators – were found buried in a prison garden near a bamboo patch outside the walls of the prison in an area accessible to the public and has added credence to claims of a jailbreak plot being planned.

When Guardian Media asked prison commissioner Dennis Pulchan in late April, just before he went on leave, about a jailbreak plot and a notorious figure who has been conducting exercise routines that resemble military drills on the prison grounds with several other prisoners on a near-daily basis, he said, “As far as I am concerned, there is exercise every day in the yard.”

But intelligence sources indicated that at least 40 of the prisoner’s cohorts are getting fit for “something big,” a story that is corroborated in the intelligence report. The pictures of these men have already been circulated within various law enforcement circles who believe they are getting support from inmates at the other jails, leading them to conclude that the size of this gang is larger than first anticipated.

“There is a much larger picture here and this person has a reach that goes all the way up. It’s something that has been on the lips of many prisons officers and some believe if anything goes wrong, it’s the prisons officers that will be targeted first,” said a senior prison source speaking on the condition of strict anonymity.

Drone intercepted; what Pulchan said

After a drone was intercepted late last year dropping off contraband to the jail, the prison’s High-Risk Management Unit (HRMU) has been on “extra high alert” and have been monitoring this situation.

The MSP’s perimeter was said to be under additional security with patrols supported by the T&T Police Service and their helicopter often circling the area at nights, especially on the weekends.

But when Pulchan spoke to Guardian Media, he had said, “My prison is in good condition and I am on top of my game with the COVID-19 issues and we know that in this environment there is an element of risk, and we want to target that fear in people’s mind and reduce it where we can.”

The fear of a jailbreak, he indicated, also trickled down to prison officers.

“This be the case, lives can be lost for both sides and we are concerned about the safety of officers and thought there is a concern for their safety. Prison officers will not back down on doing their jobs and they will stand the test of time.”

Asked to comment on reports surfacing about illegal contraband being thrown over the prison fences, or the prevalence of drones making illegal drops and information being sent back out attached to these drones, Pulchan said, “We have actually intercepted a drone. It was bringing in contraband like marijuana, cellphones and other light items like SD cards etcetera attached to it and we decided to hand it over to (name called) an intelligence agency to help us better understand what we were dealing with. We are doing our homework and guarded by what we are seeing.”

Pulchan, who returns to work on Tuesday after a two-month vacation, had said this drone was intercepted sometime late last year but could not recall the date or month in question.

Guardian Media pressed Pulchan on several other matters and although he refused to answer, he said, “You have asked some good questions and I can tell you I will give you a 9.5 out of ten for the pointed questions you have asked.”

What intelligence sources said

A senior national security official confirmed that the drone was initially in the possession of a particular intelligence agency before it was handed over to the Counter-Terrorism Unit.

“What was uncovered was a card that contained several pictures of guns, uniforms and camouflage fatigues. There were several voice notes downloaded with conversations between a notorious figure who’s in jail for murder and other men.

“The conversations outlined specific plans on how they planned to get out. There was talk of even organising some kind of retaliation once out. In fact, the figure boasted to his accomplices that money was not an issue and he had plenty of it and knew the right people to make sure this happens,” said the source who shared a snippet of the conversations that top security officials were privy to.

An informant in the jail also sent a short voice note to an intelligence source which Guardian Media listened to.

“Well dat (sic) is the plan really to get out, you dig, at least that is what the boss been telling us,” the informant revealed.

The report revealed that the notorious criminal figure (name called) was planning a prison break and had paid “an undisclosed amount of money” to a former senior police officer and others to assist in the smooth execution of this plan.

According to the report, that notorious figure was “intent on his plan and waiting on the right opportunity.”

The report stated, “It is believed that the individuals who are facilitating the escape have blueprints of the MSP layout and understand the prison’s daily operations.”

According to the sources, “unidentified individuals who are to assist in the prison break are ensuring they are arrested so they can gain access into the prison system.”

Quite alarmingly, the report stated that they had already amassed weapons which include hand grenades and rocket launchers. The report also indicated “that vehicles painted similarly to TTPS vehicles have been stashed in preparation for the proposed prison break.”

The large cache of arms and ammunition found at the bond at the Piarco International Airport on April 22, and another discovery made days later on April 25 at a customs warehouse in Mc Bean, Couva, are both connected to the jailbreak being planned from MSP, intelligence sources revealed.

On April 22, police and customs seized 30 firearms and 762 assorted rounds of ammunition at the Piarco bond, which could have slipped through the hands of authorities had there not been a tip-off about the impending contraband shipment by Government’s international partners one month earlier.

Apart from the wide arsenal found, that shipment also contained four police sirens and four police blue lights which intelligence sources believe would have been a critical component to the jailbreak plan.

“The discovery of the other find mere days later was no coincidence, it was to help compliment that shipment for the prison break,” explained an intelligence source at the Ministry of National Security.

The report stated, “The alleged payoff of high-ranking prison and law enforcement officials, if confirmed, as well as the reported possession by the conspirators of MSP blueprints and TTPS-painted vehicles greatly increase the likelihood of success, as crucial information regarding operating procedures within the prison and law enforcement procedures outside, as well as the ‘official’ vehicles, could guarantee unobstructed passage of the absconders.”

Ample assistance from accomplices outside

The authorities said there must be ample assistance from accomplices outside to orchestrate such a well-planned prison break.

The report identifies a particular individual with the initials BF. The report states this person, from the Mayaro area and who has two known addresses, is “conducting various training camps throughout Trinidad and these camps are for people who are also believed to be facilitating the prison break.”

The report indicated that the individual not only has a criminal record but his social media handles suggest he openly “supports the past 1990 coup.”

The report indicates that the extent of BF’s training in military and paramilitary training is “unknown” but if he is entrusted with such a critical role, “it is quite likely that he has some prowess in this area and may have some knowledge of the purpose of the training.”

To achieve maximum scope on this plan brief recommendations were made, including not only detaining BF but looking at other key players, observing activities at specific locations and gathering other necessary intelligence.

CoP: Law enforcement looking into matter

Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith, contacted early last week about the alleged plot, said the matter was being looked into by several law enforcement agencies, including the prisons service, and directed Guardian Media to the Ministry of National Security for comment.

No response from Hinds

Guardian Media sent WhatsApp questions to Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds on Thursday and Friday, asking if he had been aware of the prison break intelligence report pointing to a notorious criminal figure inside the MSP planning to break out and, if so, whether he had made any moves with the assistance of the various law enforcement agencies to crush this plan.

Approximately 30 seconds after the message was sent on Thursday, Hinds appeared online but did not respond.

Several calls were made to Hinds and either his phone line was busy or he never answered.

On Friday at 10.44 am, Hinds was asked to answer the questions “as a matter of public interest, since the citizenry appeared to be anxious,” following the latest find of explosives, arms and ammunition outside the MSP.

There was no answer.

On Friday evening in Parliament, Hinds, responding to a question by Opposition MP Dr Roodal Moonilal, indicated that the Prison Service was in the process of conducting an internal investigation which includes reviewing any footage, plus having the support of intelligence briefings in and around the Golden Grove area where the explosives, weapons and other items were found.

However, he said, “This is a seriously criminal and troubling matter and T&T Police Service is doing investigations to ascertain the culpability of any person/persons who might be responsible, pursuing all leads in this regard, some of which I am unable to divulge for obvious reasons.”

He said, in addition, the TTPS was doing a “more deeper, far-reaching probe to see who’s responsible for the criminality.”

The last jailbreak–July 2015

In July 2015, three men forced their way out of the Port-of-Spain jail.

The men were identified as Allan “Scanny” Martin, Hassan Atwell and Christopher “Monster” Selby.

The men shot and wounded a prison officer and later upon exiting the prison, shot and killed police constable Sherman Maynard as they made a dash to freedom. A grenade that was thrown into the drain in front of the prison by Atwell never went off.

Moments later, Martin, who was armed, was shot and killed in a confrontation with police at the Port-of-Spain General Hospital. Atwell’s freedom did not last long as a week later after being picked up by a car near the Port-of-Spain General Hospital, he was shot and killed and his body dumped onto the roadway in Laventille.

Selby later surrendered to police and was later charged with the death of PC Maynard.