19 February 2010

Elizabeth Towers Fire Inquiry – The Elizabeth Towers Fire and its Investigation

Continued from Part 1 – Introduction and Commission

This Commission of Enquiry was appointed because of the publication of two police reports into a fire which took place in Elizabeth Towers, an apartment building in St. John's.  The fire occurred at about 6:00 a.m. on April 26th, 1978, in an apartment occupied by the Honourable Dr. Thomas F. Farrell, who was then a member of the Executive Council of the Province of Newfoundland.

The Criminal Investigation Division [C.I.D.] of the Newfoundland Constabulary was responsible for investigating the cause of the fire.  The Division was in charge of Detective Inspector Donald Randell.  The arson investigation section of the C.I.D. was headed by Detective Sergeant Arthur Pike, who had four other detectives under his direction in that section.  The arson investigation section did"not investigate all fires.  It investigated all fires whose origins were of a suspicious nature, as well as certain other types of major fires, such as those involving businesses, churches and others.

Detective Robert Hillier was assigned to investigate the Elizabeth Towers fire on the morning when it took place.  I shall not go through the various steps followed in the filing of reports in the C.I.D.  The admissions made with relation to the release and publication of the two reports which were the subject matter of this enquiry show that there was no improper release of information by the staff in the C.I.D. office or any other member apart from Sergeant Pike.  Suffice it to say that a copy of the report would in due course be sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions in the Department of Justice of the Province of Newfoundland.

The first report on the Elizabeth Towers fire was dated June 7th, 1978.  In accordance with normal procedure it was sent to Mr. John Kelly, the Director of Public Prosecutions, who received it June 9th. On June 13th he sent a copy of the report to Mr. Robert Hyslop, the Senior Crown Prosecutor in St. John's, asking him to review it and give his opinion on it in " writing,  Kelly had read the report and said that in his opinion "the investigation was very poorly done".

He said:
"The police had reached a premature conclusion and I saw an obvious need for a lot of additional investigation."
Kelly said that as a result of his own reaction to the report and of Hyslop's assessment of it, he wrote the Chief of Police of the Newfoundland Constabulary on June 14th outlining 24 points which he wanted clarified. He received a further report on July 13th.  It was the C.I.D. report which was dated July 12th and which was one of the reports released to the media.  Kelly said that the second report answered many, but not all, of the questions which he had asked.  In his opinion the questions were "quite material".  He sent a copy of the second report to Hyslop and asked him to review it and to meet with him so that both of them "could discuss what further action was necessary on the file".

Kelly said that he and Hyslop met and discussed the reports.  He said that he "felt at the time that there was an indication that a crime had been committed". He also said that although the second report substantiated his conclusion that there had been a crime and although the report identified the person who may have committed the crime, he "was not completely satisfied with the police investigation".  He and Hyslop had several discussions on the question of whether they had enough evidence to warrant the laying of charges.  He then decided to bring the file to the attention of the Deputy Attorney General, Mr. George Macaulay. 

Kelly said that in any case where there is difficulty he would ask for a second, or even a third, opinion.  He added that if Macaulay gives instructions that charges are to be laid straight away those instructions are followed because Macaulay is his superior.  When he consulted Macaulay, the latter decided that Inspector Randell should assume responsibility for providing the additional information which Kelly and Hyslop were seeking.  With reference to Macaulay's attitude towards the investigation, Kelly said:
"He was even more reluctant or more certain that charges should not be laid at that point and he wanted several areas covered that we had not even considered.  He had his doubts about the evidence that had been gathered at that point."
Kelly said that as a result of the consultations with Macaulay a third report was requested.  For an account of how that request was made I turn to the evidence of Macaulay and Randell.

Macaulay said that he first saw the reports of June 7th and July 12th in late July or early August, 1978 when Kelly and Hyslop came to him and "sought advice and instruction regarding progress and future action on the investigation".  He said that both of them were having difficulties in reaching conclusions, They came to him in accordance with the practice of consultation which was followed in the Department of Justice when doubts or difficulties arose.  He said that Kelly and Hyslop were concerned about the efficiency with which the investigation was being conducted and
"...they wanted to discuss the merits of the case, to see whether, in my opinion at that time, there were grounds for possibly laying a charge.  They couldn't reach a firm conclusion."
Macaulay said that Kelly came to see him on a Friday afternoon and he told Kelly that he wanted to study the reports over the weekend.  He arranged to meet with Kelly on the following Monday.  He studied the reports on the weekend.  He said:
"I had reached my own conclusion over the weekend from reading these reports that I, too, like Mr. Kelly had some concern about the quality of reporting and the efficiency of the investigation."
The meeting with Kelly and Hyslop to which I have already referred took place, as planned, on Monday.
It is interesting to note Macaulay's assessment of the two reports.  He described the report of June 7th as "very, very slim, very thin.  No fabric. A lot of police opinion but not much backing with direct, material, concrete evidence".  Fie said that the report of July 12th did not answer all of the questions which Kelly had asked.  He went on:
"My conclusion after reading the reports was that we needed further investigation before charges could be laid.  It was an arson case ... Traditionally that is a difficult case to reach a conclusion on. It was essentially a case of elimination.  We had to sweep aside possible people and circumstances that might have a bearing on the fire.  I then gave Prosecutor Hyslop point by point instructions on where the further investigation should go ..."
Macaulay said that since he was not happy with the way things had been going he was going to get in touch with the Chief of the Newfoundland Constabulary and insist that Inspector Randell, as Head of the C.I.D., should take charge of the investigation. Elaborating on the reasons for his dissatisfaction, Macaulay said:
"I was not happy with the way the statements had been taken.  I wasn't happy with the way Mr. Kelly's 20 to 25 points had been dealt with. I wanted a person in senior rank to take charge of this investigation."
Macau lay spoke to the Assistant Chief of Police who had Randell getting touch with Macaulay,  In relating a conversation with Randell, Macaulay said:
"... I conveyed to him my concern on the question of efficiency, speed and standards of reporting which were quite strong and asked him to contact Prosecutor Hyslop direct to take instructions on the1 further areas of investigation that we felt we needed...I told him ...that the additional areas that I had instructed for investigation should not take too long and I would expect a third report in around 10 days' time.  A third report carne in.  It was longer than 10 days' time because I believe some of the detectives were on holiday at the time and there were some re-arrangements of duties that had to be carried out. But the third report came in ... maybe 22 days after my instruction."
I shall return again to Macaulay's evidence but at this point I turn to that of Inspector Randell to indicate the extent to which it corroborates that of Macaulay.

Randell said that in the morning of July 31st, which was a Monday, the Assistant Chief of Police told him to call Macaulay,  He did so.  He said that they had a lengthy discussion, that Macaulay wanted to hear from him "before Friday because he would like to “lay charges of arson against Dr. Farrell".  Macaulay also told him to see Hyslop, which he did on the morning of August 1st.

I must note an element of urgency reflected in the evidence of Randell and Macaulay, though there is a minor disparity between them.  Macaulay said that he told Randell he would expect a report in about 10 days. 

Randell said that Macaulay told him he wanted to hear from Randell before the Friday following the Monday on which they spoke to each other, that is, within four days.  There is a disparity in the time span referred to in those two statements.  But that is not too important. What is important for the purpose of this enquiry is that the evidence of Macaulay and Randell indicates that Macaulay displayed a sense of urgency in his wish that the Department of Justice be in a position to lay charges as soon as possible.  That is important to remember when it comes to a consideration of the allegations by Sergeant Pike and Mr. William Rowe that there was what was referred to colloquially as a "cover-up".

Randell met with Hyslop after Macaulay directed him to take charge of the investigation and they studied a document which Hyslop had drawn up.  Randell said that he realized it was impossible for him alone to be able to do what was requested in one week.  He was expected to see Dr. Farrell again but Dr. Farrell was at his summer home in the Codroy Valley.  He was also asked to interview Dr. Farrell's son, who was in Ottawa.  Also, Randall felt that it was possible that Hillier, the investigating officer, might know something that was not in his reports, so he wanted to talk to Hillier before proceeding with the investigation.  That could not be done immediately because Hillier was travelling on the mainland of Canada by trailer and Randell did not know where-to reach him.  Randell also wanted to talk to Pike, who was.in St. Anthony on leave.  He reached Pike by-telephone and had him return to St. John's,  They met on August 2nd,  After that meeting, Pike returned to St. Anthony.  I shall have to pick up that part of the narrative again when I review Pike's activities.

Around August 5th or 6th Randell told Macaulay that he needed more time,  On August 16th. Randell submitted the third report.  At that time there was .a witness whom Randell wished to interview but- she was in Western Canada.  He said that in his August 16th report he stated that he would see that witness 'when she.returned to St, -John's, that he might get a statement from her and that he 'would then submit a further report.

Macaulay had the following to say about the third report:
"We looked at the third report, coupled with the first and second and I had a further meeting with . the prosecutor, Mr, Hyslop and the Director, Mr. Kelly.  Again, I wasn’t happy with the third report. There were areas to be eliminated, there were people to be eliminated,  I wanted these people to be interviewed."
Macaulay said that he wanted some polygraph testing done.  Apparently, as a result of a voluntary polygraph examination of one person whom Macaulay regarded as a possible suspect, that suspect was relieved of suspicion. Macaulay said that as a result of the instructions he gave a fourth report was received near the end of September.  Randell said that the report was dated September 15th.

Randell went to Ottawa on September 18th to attend a six-week course at the Canadian Police College. On September 26th or 27th he was instructed to return to St, John's because of the leakage of the reports of June 7th and July 12th to the news media.  He returned on September 29th for the purpose of reviewing the entire investigation arid to make recommendations. He studied the reports and met with Macaulay and Kelly. He said:
"It was decided that I should check on all the statements that were taken, re-interview the witnesses and, as I stated, make recommendations or suggestions.  I conducted the further investigation and I recommended that Dr. Farrell be charged with arson. I then went to Provincial Court in St. John's and I laid an information charging him with arson."
The records show that the information was laid on October 16th, 1978.  In due course a preliminary enquiry was held and the charge against Dr. Farrell was dismissed.

Even though some five months elapsed from the date of the fire to the laying of an information, this was not an inordinate delay, nor was it unusual.  When it appears that a criminal offence has been committed police investigators may very well have suspicions and may, indeed, have well-founded suspicions.  Having suspicions and proving the commission of an offence to the satisfaction of a court are two different matters.  Indeed, this same investigation and the subsequent preliminary enquiry demonstrated this.

-srbp-

2 comments:

Wm. Murphy said...

why the history lesson?

Ed Hollett said...

Giant political scandal.

Interesting story with plenty of backstory, as you can and will see in Soper.

Lots of familiar names.

Pretty much forgotten among the young 'uns, if they even know about it at all.

1979 was a gigantic political year:

Frank left, Brian came, Bill Rowe tossed, Don Jamieson back hailed as a hero and then crushed at the polls, Hibernia discovered etc etc.

This scandal was right in there.

And Judge Soper's first report is clearly written and short so it won't put people to sleep.