THE TELEGRAPH (UK) – A British woman whose husband was murdered in a bungled robbery on their yacht in St Lucia has criticised the Caribbean island’s justice system, demanding that it speed up its “glacial” investigation and bring the culprits to justice.
Margaret Pratt, 60, found her husband Roger, 62, a retired engineer, floating face down in the sea after four men stormed their yacht and attacked the couple. Four men were arrested – but since then the legal process has stalled.
“I’m disappointed and frustrated,” she said. “There is no reason for this.”
Speaking to The Telegraph in her first interview, nine months after the incident, Mrs Pratt, a management consultant, told of her anger at the delay.
“It’s now nine months since my husband was murdered in St Lucia, and I am starting to feel frustrated by the lack of progress,” she said.
“Initially I commended the St Lucia government – they really gave it their all to make sure that people were charged. But things have ground to a halt.
“And if it does take four to five years, my life will be on hold for four to five years, until I can put this behind me. It’s not just for me – this isn’t a special case. I don’t want a special case, special pleading, but justice delayed is justice denied.”
Mrs Pratt, who met her husband through a mutual love of sailing, said she was looked after well initially by the St Lucian authorities. With tourism accounting for 65 per cent of its gross domestic produce, the government did all it could to assist her and save the island’s reputation.
Kenny Anthony, the prime minister, visited Mrs Pratt and offered his support. A police escort was provided, to shield her from journalists. The hotel staff could not have been more helpful, she said.
“While I was there they knew the damage I could do, so they took great care,” she said. She knew that with the world’s media descending on the island she had the potential to shine a spotlight on the dark criminal underbelly of St Lucia.
“But now I’m not there – out of sight is out of mind. And they have moved on to other things,” she said.
The Pratts sailed for St Lucia in June 2013 after retiring and renting out their Warwickshire home. The trip was a leg of a round-the-world voyage that had been their lifelong dream. First stop was Martinique, and then St Lucia, where Mrs Pratt celebrated her 60th birthday, dining with seafaring friends in Marigot Bay. From St Lucia, the plan was to go on to the Grenadines, and then probably up to the US to avoid the hurricane season.
But at about 11pm on Jan 17, as they had just gone to bed, they heard a rowing boat drawing closer to their yacht. “We heard them above us,” she said. “We had gone to bed, and heard the noise.”
Four men were on board – unarmed, Mrs Pratt thinks, but “geared up” to raid the boat. “I just think the red mist descended,” she said. “One held me down and the other beat me up. And out of the corner of my eye I saw Roger wrestling with one of them.”
When the men jumped into the sea and fled, a bloodied and bruised Mrs Pratt searched for her husband. She saw him floating facedown in the sea.
Four men – Richie Kern, Fanis Joseph, Jermoine Jones and Kervin Devaux – have been charged with Mr Pratt’s murder. All four have been remanded in custody since their arrests nine months ago and it could be up to five years before their murder trial begins.
“By the time I left they had crawled over the boat for the forensics, had found the people, who confessed – everything was in good shape,” she said.
But since then, there had been no advance – no date for the trial, and a series of hearings had been deferred.
“The government cannot interfere with the judiciary – and quite right,” Mrs Pratt said. “But then you dig a bit deeper and discover that there was this immense backlog of cases of people on remand. It’s immense.”
The island of 175,000 people has only one prison, which was built for 500 inmates but houses more than 600, at least half of whom are awaiting trial.
Until recently, St Lucia had only one judge with the authority to rule on serious crime. A second was hired but unable to take up his post because no courtroom was available until last month.
“This is causing problems for foreigners and St Lucians,” said a Western envoy. “It makes it more difficult to get a prosecution because witnesses, evidence and everything you need for a trial is more difficult to put in place six years on.”
A spokesman for the St Lucian prime minister did not respond to requests for comment. “The government should be making sure the judiciary has sufficient resources to clear the pipeline – that’s its role,” Mrs Pratt said.
She has gone back to work, in what she says is an attempt to take her mind off the “very, very vivid” recollections of that night. “You relive it most days,” she said.
But she bears no hatred for the accused. “There is no bile. They all have form, they are petty thieves, for whom also the red mist descended. These are young men, who had geared themselves up …” she said, her voice trailing away.
“It is hanging over me. And while I can rebuild my life, that rebuilding won’t be complete until the trial is over.”