A strong reminder has been issued to persons who are not fulfilling their responsibility as parents and caregivers.
The call came from Chief Magistrate Rechanne Browne just before ordering a 39-year-old man to pay the Court $1,500 for neglecting that responsibility, by leaving his 4-year-old son alone in the dark ground floor of a house. He is to pay the fine by September 1, or go to prison for 6 months.
“We have to be cognizant of our responsibility as parents and caregivers. They (children) did not ask to be here. We are to ensure their best interest at all time”, the Chief Magistrate told the defendant, Casmore Hepburn, a construction worker residing at Lower Questelles.
Hepburn was charged with, on June 5, 2022, at Lower Questelles, being charged with the duty of providing the necessities of life for his 4-year-old son, failed to do so, contrary to section 197 of the Criminal Code, Chapter 171 of the Revised edition of the Laws of SVG, 2009.
Hepburn pleaded guilty when he initially appeared at the Serious Offences Court on June 9, and the facts were presented, but sentencing was adjourned to Monday, to have the court hear from the Child Protection Unit at the Family Services Division in the Ministry of National Mobilisation.
Hepburn was at the time unrepresented. “You are not the best father, but neither are you the worst father”, the Chief Magistrate told him.
In outlining the aggravating factors, the Magistrate pointed out that the child was left alone in the dark, unattended for a period of time.
“Big people are afraid of the dark, much less to a 4-year-old”, Browne said.
“You have to try to get yourself in order. You have been caring for this child since he was one year and six months.
“The Court takes these things very seriously”, the Magistrate warned.
“Do what you can to ensure that the child is safe. Don’t leave him unattended, and when something happens, you are sorry”, she added.
Browne said that based on the report from the Child Protection Officer, the child is sensible and articulate, and the Magistrate urged Hepburn to try to ensure that his son has a successful life.
Defendant known to police
According to the facts presented by Prosecutor Aliston Stapleton at the Serious Offences Court, during Hepburn’s initial appearance on June 9, Corporal 45 Adrain Forde knows the defendant very well.
The Court heard that Hepburn’s 4-year-old son lives with his father in two bedroom unfinished downstairs at Lower Questelles. The Court further heard that Hepburn is in the habit of going to a nearby rum shop and gambling at nights into the early morning hours, during which his son is with him. Hepburn also drinks alcohol, and at times he had to be assisted in getting home with the child.
The facts further revealed that Corporal Forde met Hepburn once in a rum shop gambling at about 5 a.m., while his son was at the same shop sleeping on two chairs.
Forde warned Hepburn about this, and took him home with the child because the defendant was too intoxicated to lift up the child and walk with him.
Police called into action
On June 5, around 9 p.m., an unknown caller telephoned the Questelles Police Station, and reported that Hepburn had locked his son in the house, and went to take part in a street jump up.
As a result of this report, Forde and another police officer went to Hepburn’s Home at Lower Questelles where they met the door locked from outside. Forde unlocked the door and noticed that the downstairs was in total darkness. He searched the downstairs and met the child in one of the bedrooms on a bed, face down.
Forde put a light on the child, and the toddler jumped up off the bed, and began to cry, saying, “Daddy gone town, and left me alone home.
Forde packed some clothes in a bag for the child, took him to the Questelles Police Station, and contacted the Child Protection Unit.
At about 9:55 p.m. that evening, Hepburn arrived at the Questelles Police Station, and stated that he went to buy cigarettes at a nearby shop, and when he returned he was told that the police took his son.
A strong scent of alcohol was coming from Helpburn’s breath, and he was unable to stand without support.
Forde related to Hepburn what was reported, and what the police did so far, and informed him that charges would be brought against him.
The child was taken to the Salvation Army at Pembroke, and on June 8, around 11 a.m., Hepburn returned to the Police Station, at the request of the lawmen. He was informed of the report, cautioned and interviewed. He volunteered a statement, and was subsequently charged.
When the Child Protection Officer took the stand on Monday, she told the Court that the Unit was notified of the incident, and the child was placed in care of the State.
The Social Worker said Hepburn stated that he was taking care of the toddler since he was a year and six months, as the mother wanted to put him up for adoption. She said Hepburn admitted that the child, who had turned 4 in February, was often left alone.
Lawyer makes strong mitigation
Attorney Duane Daniel who mitigated on Hepburn’s behalf on Monday, told the Court that what the facts did not include, was that Hepburn lives downstairs with the child, and the mother and sister live upstairs.
Daniel added that the facts indicated that the child was left in the dark, but from his (Daniel) instructions, there was no electricity downstairs.
Daniel referenced a statement Hepburn had given to the police, in which he said that he had just gone to the shop to buy cigarettes.
“Though what he did was not in the best interest of the child, the fact that the mother and sister were just upstairs, shows that the child was not left totally unattended”, Daniel contended. He pointed out that the staircase to the upstairs of house is outside, and those who lived upstairs had already closed their door. But Hepburn, the lawyer added, had informed a neighbour that he was not going to be away for long.
Daniel pointed out that there was only 55 minutes between the call made by the unknown caller to the Questelles Police Station, and the time Hepburn showed up at the Station.
According to the lawyer, nicotine is an addiction, and one only has to look at someone opening a pack of cigarettes and others around bombing a smoke or cigarette from him.
“At least, he (Hepburn) is a single parent trying his best to care for him (son). He (Hepburn) has fallen short”.
Daniel noted that Hepburn had no previous convictions, was remorseful for his action, and pleaded guilty at the first available opportunity. He requested that the defendant be reprimanded and discharged, or fined.
He said Hepburn’s sister was outside the Court and was concerned.
But the Magistrate responded sharply, “Family members are to be concerned all the time”.
But Prosecutor Renrick Cato noted that the offence carries a maximum penaly of five years in prison. He asked the Court to impose a penalty which would reflect the seriousness of the crime, and deter others from committing offences of this nature.
“When the defendant arrived at the Police Station, they had to assist him because of his condition, and strong odor of alcohol that was coming from him”, Cato told the Court.
“Why would he (Hepburn) leave the child in a downstairs, no current, after 9 p.m to go buy cigarette,” Daniel questioned rhetorically.
However, Daniel rebutted that there was no evidence which contradicts Hepburn’s explanation that he went to buy cigarettes.
After taking everything into consideration, the Magistrate opted to impose a fine.