Mark Wilson #2

The writer is an international journalist based in Port of Spain

Two weeks ago, Belize police Senior Supt Henry Jemmott was shot through the head with his service weapon in San Pedro, an offshore tourist paradise.

Held for the killing was 32-year-old Jasmine Hartin, a glamorous Canadian.

Her arms and clothes were stained with blood.

With a body count of more than 100 last year, Belize killings are not normally big news. But this was different.

Jasmine Hartin’s long-time partner and father of her four-year-old twin boys is Andrew Ashcroft, whose own father, Lord Ashcroft, is a controversial British-Belizean billionaire.

Now 75 and a dual national, he spent much of his childhood in what was then British Honduras.

He is former deputy chairman of Britain’s Conservative party, and a generous political donor.

In Belize, he has a controlling interest in the biggest bank, and holds a significant slice of the country’s debt.

There’s no suggestion that Lord Ashcroft or his son Andrew had any connection to Henry Jemmott’s killing, or indeed to any wrongdoing.

But with a big name in the mix, British and North American media joined the frenzy.

So, what do we know?

Jemmott and Hartin were on a seafront pier near the newly-completed Alaia Beach Club, where she was lifestyle director.

Both were fully dressed. It was after midnight, well into Belizean curfew hours.

San Pedro was Jemmott’s former police patch, although he was later posted to San Ignacio in western Belize, and then to Belize City, which is 50 km across the water from San Pedro.

He has five children, three of them with his long-term partner. He was taking leave to deal with personal issues.

He spoke to his sister from a resort room around ten that evening, after a day’s fishing with his good friend “Pawny” Arceo, and another buddy, Manuel Pacheco, who was freed last year after two years in prison on a murder charge.

His body was found in the water. More than six feet tall and 300 pounds, he would not be easy to move.

Hartin was held on the scene of the shooting. She made no attempt to flee.

Belize Channel Seven TV quotes a fellow police cell inmate: “In the night that they brought her, really they were roughing her up because it was a cop that died.”

He says: “I asked her, did you do it? And she said no, someone shot her friend and he dropped on top of her and that’s why her clothes have blood.”

Channel Seven TV has shown video clips from a week before the killing, with a woman resembling Jasmine dropped off by a man who looks like Jemmott at a Belize City water taxi terminal, then crying inconsolably.

A London newspaper, Mail on Sunday, quotes what looks like a leaked version of Hartin’s later police statement.

The Mail says Hartin and Jemmott had been friends for years.

The week before, he drove 80 km from Belize City to Belize’s inland capital, Belmopan, to pick Hartin up from a party where a man had behaved aggressively.

That chimes with Channel Seven’s video. She reportedly said: “He told me I needed to get a gun for my own personal protection.”

On the night of Jemmott’s killing, they arranged a late meet-up, and had drinks.

Hartin says she offered Jemmott a massage to deal with a sore shoulder from fishing.

She practised loading and unloading his gun.

It fired unexpectedly when she was trying to extract a jammed magazine clip. He was shot behind the ear.

She reportedly said: “Henry fell back on top of me. I was pinned down and he was bleeding all over me. As I was wriggling to get out from under him, to get free so I could check to see if he was OK, he slipped into the water.”

On advice from Belize’s DPP, Hartin has been charged with manslaughter by negligence, with possible penalties ranging from jail time to a modest fine.

Belize’s police commissioner Chester Williams said at an early stage that she could also face charges over a 0.4-gramme cocaine find.

Hartin’s attorney is Godfrey Smith, a former attorney general, whose wife is currently Belize’s parliamentary Speaker.

After spending eight days in jail, Hartin was freed on Wednesday, on US$15,000 bail.

In case she feels like another night-time stroll, she’s on a 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew.

She has to report every day to the police station in San Ignacio—that’s around two hours’ drive going west from Belize City, close to the Guatemalan border. She won’t have much time to go home to San Pedro.

Henry Jemmott was in command of San Ignacio police station until last month.

His long-term partner and three of his children live in the small town.

Belize, meanwhile, is in deep economic trouble. Prime Minister John Briceño swept to power with a landslide win last November.

He has cut teachers’ and public servants’ salaries by ten per cent, and last month defaulted on a bond interest payment.

His predecessor, Dean Barrow, was embroiled in lengthy feuds with Lord Ashcroft, leading to a string of costly CCJ judgments which still have to be paid.

Jasmine Hartin is not the only one to have headaches.

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