EDITORIAL: Remembering a hero and guardian angel

PAUL Thompson was a guardian angel.

His passing late on Wednesday evening at the age of 96 leaves The Bahamas without a man who stood strong in the dark drug days of The Bahamas, and who fought hard to support and advance his fellow police officers.

I do not just say that from reputation, I write it from experience.

Many Bahamians are familiar with the famous report in 1982 on NBC called “The Bahamas: A Nation For Sale”. The Bahamas was being used by drug smugglers such as Carlos Lehder, with Norman’s Cay serving as a base for smuggling cocaine into the United States.

There were allegations of bribes being taken to allow such a trade, with the 1984 Royal Commission into drug trafficking and government corruption leading to resignations and sackings, and questioning the origin of some of the amounts of cash received by Prime Minister Lynden Pindling, with explanations for where some of the deposits came from unable to be verified.

That is how it is recorded in history, but history does not record as easily how it was on the streets at that time.

Had Paul Thompson not been so strong in service at the time, I myself might not have survived those years.

It was the job of The Tribune to report on what was happening on those streets – it still is – but perhaps that led to some foolhardy moments. It is one thing saying one has to be fearless to go and find the story, but another thing to actually put oneself in more than one dangerous spot to do so.

I wouldn’t move without Paul Thompson at that time. I was young and in the profession of journalism and taking risks in pursuing stories relating to drugs.

He was an ever-present whenever there was danger. He had my back.

Over the years, we grew very close. We shared an understanding of how important it was to try to stem the tide of drugs in The Bahamas – and of the crime that went with it.

Protecting a member of the press going about their duties was, I think, another way of protecting The Bahamas for Paul. He knew that there could be no room for crime to be swept under the carpet, or ignored, or, worse, for money to change hands to make people look the other way.

Getting the story out about the fight against crime was, and remains, another way of fighting crime itself. Indeed, he said as much himself, saying in 1999: “Law enforcement and journalism are locked (or should be) arm-in-arm by mutual obligation to improve society and protect the dignity and security of the community and nation.”

Paul also became a regular writer to The Tribune in later years – and did so with passion on the subject of the police force.

He championed honest police officers – including suggesting such things as paying honest officers more who turn down bribes. The integrity of the police force was as important to him as his own personal integrity.

He was a regular defender of officers, citing what it is that officers have to experience as they go about their duties. These days, that includes attending murder scenes every few days at times. It is hard for those who have never or rarely seen a dead body to appreciate what it must be like to go through that time after time, to see the anguish of relatives, to deal with the anger at the scenes of such crimes and to try to stop things escalating, even in cases of gang killings where reprisals are already being plotted out.

Paul survived gunfights himself – including one night when officers sought to tackle a numbers boss, Talbot Thompson. As officers arrested a man carrying records of the number sales from various outlets, Talbot Thompson was alerted and fled. Paul and his fellow officers pursued the numbers man into his garage, who walked towards them with his hand behind his back. He pulled out a gun and shot the bag man, then turned his gun on the officers, including Paul’s colleague Sergeant Courtney Strachan. The numbers man pulled the trigger, but the gun misfired. A gunfight ensued that ended when tear gas was used to flush out the fugitive, who was arrested. The numbers man tried to protest that it was the police who had shot the bag man, but the bullet came from the criminal’s gun. A gun that could so easily have cost an officer his life if not for that misfire.

It was through all of those kinds of horrors that Paul Thompson endured and sought to protect others.

The current Police Commissioner, Clayton Fernander, has called Paul a “hero to our country”.

That is true. But on a personal note, he was a hero to me. And there are many others for whom he was a personal hero.

Paul Thompson, born in the village of Cunupia in Trinidad, became one of The Bahamas’ most outstanding officers, a hero to its citizens, and an honoured colleague to his fellow officers.

He went above and beyond for those he knew, and those he did not, and took a firm stance when it was needed most.

Collectively, we should honour him in his passing – while personally, I thank him for all he did. He was a man who made a difference, to me, and to all of us.

You served gallantly, Paul. May you rest in peace.


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