By Larry Lalla, www.newsday.co.tt
Apart from the ever deteriorating crime situation which continues to add to the stress and fear of everyday living, within recent times we have had to live with the real fear of a terrorist attack in our country. Almost on a daily basis we hear of innocent lives being lost as a result of a bombing in some part of the world. It is a fact that with the right amount of will power, planning and money one could get almost anything into our country and one cannot help but wonder when the first bomb will explode here. In the meantime we continue to have those among us who for whatever reason chose to exploit our fear and known vulnerability by making prank telephone calls to warn of bombs planted at various public buildings. Within recent times we have had bomb scares at schools, courthouses, the Piarco International Airport and even at the Red House.
Each bomb scare results in an immense waste of time and money for all concerned. One could well remember when recently, as a result of a bomb threat, the Piarco International Airport had to be evacuated and incoming flights turned away.This resulted in a great inconvenience to travellers, a loss of money by the airlines and damage to our international reputation. Also, one remembers the massive traffic pile up that resulted in Port-of- Spain a couple Fridays ago when there was a bomb scare in the vicinity of the Port-of-Spain Magistrates' Court and Red House. Many businesses and offices were forced to close as early as 12.30 pm on that day in the ensuing panic and uncertainty that resulted from what turned out to be just another prank call. Of even greater concern, is that these hoaxes necessitated the mobilisation of a many members of the armed forces whose time could have been better spent dealing with some of our more pressing national security issues.
In this regard the Police ought to be commended for the apprehension and successful prosecution of Nicholas Gumbs. On Friday May 28, 2004 Mr. Gumbs, via a cell phone, falsely represented himself to be Jamaat al Muslimeen leader Yasin Abu Bakr and falsely reported to the St James police that there was a bomb planted at the Red House. The staff at the Red House had to stop their official duties in service to the country and had to evacuate the building. Mr Gumbs was charged for the "misuse of telephone facilities" under section 106 of the Summary Courts Act which makes it an offence for a person to send " any message by telephone, or any telegram which he knows to be false, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to any other person." What happened next served to highlight how woefully inadequate the present law is to deal with this serious criminal offence.
Mr Gumbs pleaded guilty and received the maximum sentence under section 106, which, at present, is a fine of two hundred dollars or one month imprisonment. This sentencing provision of the Act dates back to 1951. It is clearly inadequate and needs to be updated if the law is to serve as a real deterrent to all those who are minded to engage in setting up "bomb scares". The setting up of bomb scares is an act of terrorism and one who engages in such conduct shows by his conduct that he has no regard for the time, property or emotions of others. A person engaging in such conduct should only have a fine imposed upon him in the most exceptional of circumstances. Imprisonment should be the order of the day for such offence. Further, section 106 deals with the sending of "any message by telephone or any telegram." No provision is made for the now common method of sending messages via e-mail. We need to have a statutory provision to deal specifically with bomb threats and a sentencing provision that reflects the severity of this criminal act in our present global and local climate.
Such a provision could be similar to section 51 of the Criminal Law Act 1977 in England where "A person who communicates any information which he knows or believes to be false to another person with the intention of inducing in him or any other person a false belief that a bomb or other thing liable to explode or ignite is present in any place or location whatever is guilty of an offence." To simply call the telephone operator on a 999 call and utter the words "there is a bomb" without identifying any specific place where a bomb might be planted, constitutes an offence for one is liable to be prosecuted. Under section 51 of this Act the stipulated sentence, if an offender is convicted in the Magistrates' Court, is a fine or six months imprisonment, and if he is convicted in the High Court the stipulated sentence is a term of imprisonment of up to seven years.
In England the Court of Appeal has generally approved sentences of between 12 months to two years imprisonment. Mr Gumbs should consider himself very lucky. Finally,it goes without saying that the Police in all parts of the country should be equipped with state of the art telephone tracing equipment so as to apprehend offenders swiftly and with sufficient evidence to ensure a conviction.
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