40 years of grief

Cop disabled by gunman's bullet living on $320 weekly


Thursday, February 22, 2018

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BETHEL TOWN, Westmoreland - The pleasant countenance and winning smile of 63-year-old ex-Special Constable Nicholas Harding, who was shot and left for dead by two gunmen in the tough Kew Lane area of Kingston almost 40 years ago, belie the suffering and pain that he has been enduring since then.

The former cop, who was shot in the chest and the bullet lodged in his spine, while another bullet pierced his head in the wee hours of April 21, 1979 while on his home from work, miraculously survived the attack, but the incident has left him paralyzed from the waist down.

“On the night of April 20, I worked at an ambassador's home and after coming off the shift at midnight I reported at Harman Barracks, where I signed off duty. The norm was for myself, and the other colleagues who had signed off at about the same time, to be transported home by a service vehicle. But, because the transportation was running a bit late that night, I was dropped off at about 12:45 am several chains from my house on Kew Lane,” Harding told the Jamaica Observer West.

Harding, who was enlisted in the then Island Special Constabulary Force (ISCF) about three years prior, said while walking home he was pounced upon by the gunmen, who were apparently hiding behind a concrete column. His attackers, he said, were known to him.

“The gunmen came from behind the column and said, 'don't move, if you try anything you dead, so give me the gun,” Harding recounted.

Their request, however, could not be granted, as the then special constable had already handed over his service revolver at Harman Barracks at the end of his shift.

Harding said that when he told his attackers he didn't have a gun, they opened fire on him.

He stressed that the criminals did not ask for money, but insisted that they want his gun.

He told the Observer West that after he was shot, he was left on the road bleeding profusely until about 6:00 am when a passerby saw him.

The wounded cop, who was by then in an unconscious state, was subsequently taken to hospital where he spent seven months, then transferred to the Sir John Golding Rehabilitation Centre, the then Mona Rehabilitation Centre, where he spent another 10 months.

Harding said when his attackers heard that he was still alive they went in search of him, as they wanted to “finish me off.”

But quick action by the police force thwarted their plan, as Harding was placed under police guard during his time in hospital and at the rehabilitation centre.

According him, the criminals were later arrested and charged and subsequently sentenced, but not before they allegedly fatally shot a policeman who was investigating the shooting incident involving Harding.

One of the criminals, he added, escaped custody during Hurricane Gilbert in 1988, but was later shot dead by the police, while the other has “served his time in prison.”

Three years after the brutal attack, the then special constable returned to his native Bethel Town in Westmoreland, where he is confined to a bed and wheelchair, for the most part, as he struggles to make ends meet with the measly $640 he has been receiving from the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) on a fortnightly basis.

In fact, the amount he now receives is a 100 per cent increase over the amount that he had been getting in former years.

Harding added that during the seven months when he spent in hospital, he received his sick leave pay on a monthly basis, noting, however, that as soon as he was discharged from the facility, the payment ceased.

In the early 1980's, he noted, the NIS paid him a lump sum of $8,000 and later commenced the $230.00 payment.

The lump sum, he added, was used to repair the dilapidated board dwelling in Bethel Town, where he now resides.

In October 2002, the ex-cop was also awarded an amount of $18,000 by the Island Constabulary Force Welfare Fund.

A further payout of $4,000 per month continued under the fund, for a few months.

He stressed, however, that he is yet to get a pension that he is entitled to from the Government, despite several letters and phone calls to various institutions, including the Office of the Public Defender.

“I now need help and fast, because the $640 that I am getting from the NIS every two weeks is just not enough. My medical bill alone is about $10,000 monthly,” said a seemingly frustrated Harding, adding that assistance sought through the National Health Fund has been denied.

To make matters worse, Harding's mother Francis Mofatt, who used to provide “financially and otherwise”, is no longer able to do so due to ill-health.

The bulk of Harding's financial need is now being shouldered by his twin brother, Linford, an ex-cop, who works at nights as a security guard and does farming and construction work during the days, in an effort to provide for his brother.

Linford also prepares meals, does laundry and gives his brother daily baths and moves him around, as he is now without a functioning wheelchair.

“I really don't like to rely on hand-outs, but right now I am in need of a wheelchair, so that I can move around instead of being lifted by my brother. I also need financial assistance and the pension that I suppose to get,” said Harding, stressing that “sometimes I feel like giving up.”

He however, expressed gratitude to Linford and former Assistant Commandant in the then Island Special Constabulary Force Daniel Williams, who he described as “very supportive.”

“He (Williams) is very, very supportive of me. When I feel like giving up, he always say 'don't give up ... ,” said the injured cop.

The former assistant commandant who is leading the charge for Harding to get his pension told the Observer West that the law that governs the ISCF from 1950 clearly states that “if a special constable gets injured on the job and becomes disabled, a pension should be paid to him during his life, and that has not changed. That has been the regulation of the ISCF before we became pensioners in 1982 when we became permanently employed.”

“Had he (Harding) not met this unfortunate situation I am sure that, the gentleman would have become a full-fledged pensioner like others, and possibly attained several ranks coming up the line,” said Williams confidently.

The retired assistant commandant stressed that Harding was a brilliant constable, who worked assiduously while in the ISCF.

“He worked hard, he was focused, one who worked relentlessly, he has never been absent from any form of duties assigned to him, although he was young in the system. He showed potential up to the time when the unfortunate incident occurred,” said Williams, who had known Harding personally, and was a senior special constable in the ISCF when Harding was shot and wounded.

Williams emphasised that the former constable is deserving of a pension, noting that he too has written to the Jamaica Constabulary Force Welfare Department and the then commandant of the ISCF requesting assistance for his former colleague “and nobody has come to this gentleman's (Harding) assistance.”

“Haven't it been for his ageing mother, this man would have died for wants, because I don't know on today's earth, how a man that has to buy mediation, eat food… how can $640 per fortnight sustain him?,” the retired commandant questioned.

In the meantime, Linford has pledged to do

“whatever it takes” to make his brother comfortable.

“Taking care of him (brother) is not any pressure. We are twin brothers, so it's like taking care of myself. I do it with a willing heart; I have absolutely no problem doing it,” Linden stressed.

He conceded however, that the family is facing financial hardships, noting that his brother is badly in need of a functioning wheelchair and “other necessities.”

Yesterday, Deputy Public Defender Herbie McKenzie was unable to say whether Harding's plight has been brought to the attention of the Office of the Public Defender, as he was out of office. He however, advised the Observer West to contact him today, when he should be back in office.

“I really can't comment on it now. It does not flash back in my memory, and as you will appreciate, I get lots of correspondence. I am out of office today (yesterday), and you can get back in touch with me tomorrow when I get back in office,” said the deputy public defender.

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