In terms of tragedies, there are several that Belizeans will never forget. One of those is the fire at the Princess Royal Youth Hostel that took the lives of three teenage girls. This incident occurred in 2015, after the girls were locked in a room reportedly as a form of punishment. They somehow managed to start a fire that quickly blazed out of control. Almost four years later, despite numerous requests, we have still not received a report on the fire and the circumstances leading to the tragedy. Initially, the media was told that once the investigation was completed, the report would have been released. In 2016, however, CEO in the Ministry of Human Development, Judith Alpuche told the media that based on the Solicitor General’s advice, they would not be sharing the report. Here is a snippet of the press conference in which she shared that information.
Judith Alpuche, CEO, Ministry of Human Development: “The Chief Justice in his capacity as Supreme Coroner ordered that a coroner’s inquest be done so that’s the criminal aspect or I should say the legal aspect of it. So our report was more for administrative purposes for us to look at the institution and where the breakdowns occurred etcetera so we could take corrective actions. We had promised to share that report and I would have loved to but one of the pieces of strong advice that we got from the Solicitor General’s chambers was that if we go out there with this report that it could be prejudicial to any kind of disciplinary action that would be taken so we’ve held off for that purpose.”
Despite this, the Newsroom at Love has been persistent in acquiring this report. Today in an extended interview with Director of the Community Rehabilitation Center, Starla Bradley, we were able to get some answers, albeit insufficient. According to Bradley those persons who were found responsible on an administrative level were dealt with, but no one was criminally charged.
Starla Bradley, Director of Community Rehabilitation Department: “That report was an internal report, it was an administrative report commissioned by the Ministry of Human Development to mainly look at the processes, internal processes; what went wrong, were there breaches of protocol and really to try to zoom in on ‘was there anybody who could be held accountable administratively’ because that’s all the authority the ministry has ,to terminate ,people to move people. So what I understand is that that report was never intended for release because it contains interviews with staff and residents and the Solicitor General’s Ministry had advised that in order to maintain confidentiality, especially of the residents and the report having sensitive information regarding especially residents, that it not be released publicly. But what we’ve done is really looked at the recommendations and we continue to try to address those. The Ministry of Human Development lobbied with the government for them to move to accept liability for the incident and to move towards settlement so it wasn’t a question of if we were responsible the government immediately accepted responsibility and the Attorney General’s Ministry negotiated a settlement with the families of all three girls. The police did their own investigation and the Chief Justice commissioned a coroner’s inquest into the whole matter and they went through months of that process and in the end they did not find anyone criminally liable for the incident. Administratively we removed who we could remove because that’s all the authority we have but in terms of criminal liability that’s outside of us, it would have been the outcome of the police investigation or the coroner’s inquest.”
Bradley stated that the report was only shared with the family members of the three victims.