By Linny Folau TWO prison escapees are still on the run this week, as escapes from Tonga’s main prison, Hu’atolitoli at Vaini, have hit record levels with 33 escapes by 10 prisoners over the past seven months, the highest ever recorded in Tonga’s prison history. Two male prisoners have been at large for four weeks today, after breaking out of the “maximum security” part of the prison where they picked the lock then cut through a high barbed wire fence to walk free at 11:30pm on July 22. The pair of escapees, Sione Movete Uatekini (24) of Tatakamotonga and Peni ‘Inia (20) of Tu’anuku, Vava’u, residing at Ma’ufanga, serving four to six year sentences for theft and housebreaking offences since 2008, had broken out of prison numerous times in the last couple of months. Call 922 Deputy Police Commander Taniela Faletau yesterday urged the public to come forward with information that may lead to their recapture and he cautioned members who might be harbouring criminals that this is an offence. The police have set up a free telephone number 922 for the public to contact if they have any information that may lead to the recapture of these prisoners. Five escapes Frustrated prison administrators said today that from February to July, Sione had escaped five times, while Peni had escaped twice, firstly on July 2 and then again on July 22. Sione escaped twice while he was admitted to the Psychiatric Ward at Vaiola Hospital for a mental examination in February. His third escape was while working on the prison plantation and the fourth escape from one of the prison houses last month. Peni who escaped from one of the prison houses on July 2 was caught a few days later and put in the maximum security prison with Sione where they both broke out again on July 22. Old prison The maximum security prison is a cement house containing four cells with a tin roof, surrounded by a high barbed wire fence situated in the centre of the prison compound lawn. The other lock-up are small houses located outside the maximum security prison fence with only barbed wire windows and locked doors. Stressed prison guards are counting the days until they can move prisoners to a newly built concrete cell block, which is expected to be completed this year. Superintendent of Prisons Sione Falemanu told Matangi Tonga today, August 18, that the main difficulty is that the existing prison housing, which now holds over 100 prisoners is too old and they cannot safely lock-up prisoners. He said the whole compound itself is not secure, including the front entrance, which does not have a high gate apart from one guard house and prisoners could easily escape onto the main road. A shortage of prison guards at Hu’atolitoli is a another problem. “We have only 12 guards working in the compound now and we are lucky if we could have up to three officers on shift daily. “So imagine three guards manning 100 prisoners - it is far too little, we have requested for additional guards but nothing has been done so we are trying to manage the best we can because we know the importance of our job to keep prisoners locked up in order to maintain the safety of the public, he said. The Superintendent said that prisoners are overcrowded in the existing compound. “The move to our new high security prison built on the compound is imminent and I am hoping that by next week we would relocate there since there are only some minor works to be done,” he said. Record break-outs At the same time, Prison Officer Pili Tofavaha who is in charge of the prison records confirmed that 2010 has now recorded the highest number of escapes. In 2009 alone, there were only about 10 escapes, which is a dramatic jump to the 33 escapes this year, he said. Ten prisoners were involved in the escapes with some of them getting out numerous time. Pili said the prison officers had been accused of not doing their job properly, which they accepted but he said they are facing many problems and difficulties that have resulted in the escapes. Prisoners could easily break through the deteriorating walls of the old buildings or pick the locks, he said. Other prisoners break out from the prison housing by removing deteriorating bricks on the wall or cutting through barbed wire . He said in addition there are just too many prisoners for the officers on duty and they could easily just break out without the guard knowing since there might be only three guards on duty on that night for 100 prisoners. “The truth of the matter is that the prison is like a disguise, it’s only the law that is keeping the prisoners from escaping, the compound is no problem for them to escape from,” he said. He said they are looking forward to moving to the new high security prison compound that is modern and safer.
Police and Crime
A 15-year-old girl from Ha’alaufuli drowned in Vava’u waters on August 11 after a small fishing vessel loaded with a funeral party of 39 people sank on its way from Neiafu to Ovaka Island.
Two male prisoners who escaped Hu’atolitoli Prison weeks ago remain at large in Tongatapu and Police are urging the public for information in order to recapture them.
Suicides in Tonga have reached to seven this year, after a 36-year-old man was found dead at Fangaloto on Friday, August 6.
TIGHTENING control of Tonga’s international and domestic borders is one of the objectives of a new Fua’amotu Community and Airport Police Centre opened at Fua’amotu International Airport on July 28. The police base located on the ground floor at the Fua’amotu International Airport is manned by five police officers who will be on duty during the arrivals and the departures of all international and domestic flights. Police Commander Chris Kelley said in opening the office that the five permanent staff at the airport base would be supported by four staff from the Drugs Dog Section in their efforts to tighten security of Tongan borders. He stressed that drug trafficking, human trafficking, people smuggling and other transnational crimes were currently before the court in Tonga as a result of vigilance by the police and other agencies. “Today’s initiative is a further step in tightening controls and making it harder for those who want to flout the law and use Tonga in a criminal enterprise.” Policing He said that the new airport police base is also a commitment to community policing, border control and support to agencies that process and facilitate Tonga’s international and domestic travellers such as Customs and Immigration. It would also provide services to the Fua’amotu community and surrounding villages. The Commander thanked Mr Darin Cusack and the Tonga Airport Ltd. for providing the space for the police base. “Police presence at the airport is nothing new but they have been absent for a number of years. Therefore we encourage all members of the travelling public to engage with our officers at the airport and to visit the office,” said the Commander.
Two men have been separately charged for the cultivation and possession of cannabis or marijuana plants at their homes in Lavengatonga and Vaini in Tongatapu.
Two men were arrested last week and charged with the robbery and theft of an Asian business at Lapaha, where more than $1,000 cash was stolen in May this year.
Two male persons have been charged with unlawful possession of firearms, namely a .38 revolver and .9mm handgun, seized near the Mala’e’aloa Cemetery on Vuna Road on Sunday, June 27.
Three people have been charged in relation to an armed robbery that took place at the Cowley Bakery in Nukunuku where about $9,000 cash was stolen on Friday, June 18.
Two Asian persons residing in Tongatapu were robbed and held at gunpoint early Saturday morning, May 29 at the Tu’imatamoana Wharf on Vuna Road.