Murder in paradise: the dark underbelly of idyllic St Lucia
Unsolved killing of UK expatriates puts spotlight on shockingly high murder rate and almost non-existent justice system
Roger Pratt and Robert Hathaway saw much of themselves in the other when they met at Marigot Bay, an exclusive yachting marina on the Caribbean island of St Lucia. The two British men were both in their 60s, still full of vigour and a sense of possibility, and both were keen sailors. It was January 2014, a few days after New Year’s celebrations had lit up the tropical water with fireworks. By then, Hathaway had lived on the island for more than a decade, managing the marina and establishing a reputation as a bon vivant beloved by both locals and expatriates in St Lucia.
Pratt, a retired business consultant from Warwickshire, had just arrived in St Lucia aboard his sailing yacht, Magnetic Attraction, which he was taking around the world on a voyage with his wife.
“He was very pleasant, obviously very happy and very relaxed,” Hathaway told me at the time. “He was on the trip of a lifetime and I knew exactly how he felt, because I had done the same thing.”
Yet almost exactly five years after their meeting, both men are dead – each murdered in brutal fashion on the island where they found so much happiness. Pratt, 62, was killed in 2014 by alleged thieves who climbed aboard his boat looking for laptops. They beat him until he suffered brain damage and left him to drown in the dark waters off the southern port of Vieux Fort. Hathaway, 66, attended his funeral. I spoke to him in St Lucia in the chaotic days after Pratt’s death, as reporters raced to the island and the stunned expatriate community tried to make sense of the killing.
Last week, it was my own turn for shock when I read that Hathaway had been killed. He was found lying in a pool of blood in his home in Gros Islet with deep lacerations on his body. The Royal Saint Lucia Police Force have launched a major murder investigation but so far no arrests have been made and the motive is not clear.
I exchanged e-mails with Margaret Pratt, Roger’s widow, in the wake of Hathaway’s death. A warm woman but also crisp, professional and not prone to emoting, she was seriously beaten during the attack that killed her husband, but impressed St Lucian police with her steady resolve as she helped with the investigation. “There are great parallels in their lives and, seemingly, now their deaths,” she reflects, on the latest tragedy. “For them to share a similar fate, both murdered on this violent ‘paradise’ island shortly after their respective retirements, is hard to take.”
The killings offer a glimpse into the dark side of the island, far from the luxury beach resorts where tourists pay £750 a day to lounge on white sand beaches and drink cocktails under the palm fronds. St Lucia’s population of 179,000, which includes several thousand expatriates, suffers one of the worst murder rates in the world. About 19 out of every 100,000 St Lucians are murdered each year, a rate nearly 20 times that of the UK (although SA has a rate of about 34 per 100,000). Police recorded 43 murders in 2018.
The overwhelming majority of the deaths are locals; many the victims of a violent drug trade in which St Lucia and its Caribbean neighbours are transit points for cocaine heading from Latin America to Europe or the US. The drug runners often carry guns to protect their product. Yet nearly every year, a tourist or expatriate is also caught up in the violence. As well as the deaths of Hathaway and Pratt, a British businessman named Oliver Gobat was shot to death in April 2014. The 38-year-old’s body was found in his burnt-out Range Rover on a remote track near his family’s luxury hotel. His murder remains unsolved. Hathaway was twice married. Estranged from his 23-year-old wife, Macarena James, his body was found in the home he was sharing with two younger women, who he had described as his “bisexual flatmates”.
He was a devoted resident of the island and deeply committed to boosting its tourism industry. But he was not naive about the dangers in St Lucia. He served as chair of the visitor’s safety committee at the St Lucian Hotel and Tourism Association and helped compile reports about safety on the island.
When I interviewed him in 2014, he stressed that it wasn’t worth the risk trying to fend off a robber. “Unless you’re Arnold Schwarzenegger, if someone wants your stuff you let them take it. You don’t try to fight back,” he said. The UK Foreign Office’s travel advice for St Lucia states that “most visits are trouble-free, but there have been incidents of crime including murder, armed robbery and sexual assault”.
The St Lucian government is acutely aware that the highly publicised deaths of foreigners are a danger to the tourism industry which makes up more than 15% of the economy, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. Every day during the peak season, cruise ships pull in to dock in Castries, the St Lucian capital. The stacked decks of the sea liners are taller than most of the buildings in the city and the pounds and dollars spent by tourists are a lifeblood for the island.
Officials insist that these murders are isolated incidents and that tourists are safe during visits. The St Lucian high commission in London did not respond to repeated requests for comment in the wake of Hathaway’s murder.
Despite the government’s promises, law enforcement remains chaotic on the island. The police admitted in December that they had missed their targets for fighting crime in 2018 and had solved fewer than half of recent murders.
But it is the the backlog for dealing with serious crimes in the courts that is almost beyond belief. In most murder cases, victims and families are waiting years to see justice done, while defendants languish in overcrowded prisons waiting for their day in court.
St Lucia has always struggled with a backlog for criminal cases but in 2018 events took a farcical turn as the country’s only criminal court shut down. It was due to be moved to a new site on the grounds of a historic prison, but the St Lucia National Trust filed a lawsuit to block the construction, arguing that the old prison was of historic significance. A judge granted them an injunction to stop the building work.
Meanwhile, the original court building has been closed since April after court staff protested over lax security measures. What was supposed to be a temporary closure for renovations has stretched on for nine months. The result is that for nearly a year barely any criminal cases have been heard, exacerbating the already chronic backlog.
Margaret Pratt is among those waiting in frustration for justice. The couple had no children and she has devoted significant time since her husband’s death to tracking the case and raising the general issue of violence in St Lucia. Four young St Lucian men were arrested within days of her husband’s killing in 2014 and charged with murder. But not only have they not yet been tried, five years on there is still not even a date for their trial to take place.
Margaret recently returned to the island for the first time since her husband’s murder – even staying in the same hotel room that she slept in the days after his death – to meet the country’s prime minister and other senior officials, but left doubtful they had a grip on the situation. “I don’t think anyone knows what to do to speed up the process. It feels like a case of chronic failure,” she tells me. “I feel helpless and frustrated with the lack of progress.”
Meanwhile, St Lucian police have recorded Bob Hathaway’s death as the island’s first murder of the year. It will not be its last.
– © The Daily Telegraph