Dispute Highlights Problems of Land Ownership in Bahamas

The fight between two brothers and the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) over 10 acres of land came to a head yesterday.

Cedric and John Hepburn Jr. claim the property has been in the family for more than six generations

The Hepburns allege the GBPA took the 10 acres of land, which is now part of a gated community known as Fortune Cay, and now they are taking action to have the property returned to them.

Yesterday, residents were taken by surprise around 10:00 a.m. when Cedric used a tractor to block the gates of the Fortune Cay community in protest of the lack of response from the GBPA.

The move prevented anyone from entering or exiting the gated community and sparked outrage among residents.

Police were called to the scene attempting to stabilize the situation.

In an interview with The Freeport News, John Hepburn said the matter has been a vexing one for some time.

“We met with GBPA Chairman Ian Rolle on this matter last week and were told we would be contacted within a day,” he said.

“…After not being contacted for more than a week, we decided to take action because we feel the matter needs to be brought to light. We are not the only family having this kind of problem with the GBPA, in fact, I know of six other families that have the very same problem.”

Ben Bell, a 10-year resident of the Fortune Cay community, said yesterday he believed the matter should be handled in court.

“If this is a civil issue, it should go through the proper channels in the court. I want to know who assumes responsibility if someone has a heart attack and an ambulance cannot get in or if there is a fire and the fire truck cannot get in,” he said.

“This should be dealt with in the courts as this is not the answer and I hope that every foreign investor sees this.”

Another resident, Lawna Bethel, was noticeably irate over the situation, but said she was in the dark regarding the details surrounding the matter.

“I don’t even know what’s going on because no one would give me any information,” she said. “This is ridiculous and suppose there was a fire or some other emergency, you would not be able to get out.

Bethel pointed out that the situation should have been dealt with differently.

“There is a reason why there’s a court system and if we did this to their homes, they probably might have come outside and want to attack us,” she said.

Cedric, however, was unsympathetic to the rants of annoyance from the residents.

“My family and I are tired of being turned around by them every day and this is the outcome of years of frustration,” he said, while advising that the residents should ensure that the titles to their property are legitimate.

As to whether or not his actions may result in him being arrested Cedric said that issue does not arise.

“I don’t think they (GBPA or residents) can file anything against me because they are holding forged papers for the property while I have the original legal papers,” he said.

“Therefore, I do not think that an arrest is going to happen.”

Eventually, police managed to sway Cedric to remove the boulders, but he warned that it was not the end.

“The removal of the boulders is a temporary thing, it could go back. The Port has not met with me, but now that they have heard what has happened, I am sure they will meet with me sooner than later.”

The brothers claim they had asked the GBPA to stop construction until the property matter was settled, but to no avail.

“What was done here today will cause others to come forward and claim their land, we have our legal papers signed by the queen. I don’t know what he has,” Cedric said.

“We have the Crown grant for the land that was given to my grandfather and passed down to my father who is still alive and he has not sold the property to the GBPA,” Cedric said.

Michael Edwards a resident of Fortune Cay said he has no issue with the Hepburns.

“I believe if the courts have made a decision that the Hepburns have legal claim to the land here, then the Port Authority should honor the rules and decisions of the court,” Edwards said.

“However, as a home owner in this subdivision I am being prevented from having access to my property and something about that has to be wrong. Quite obviously there will be other legal implications as it relates to me being denied access to my property which at the time when I purchased property from the GBPA I got good legal and marketable title.”

Asked whether he thought the Hepburns went too far Edwards said, “No I do not think the Hepburns went to an extreme.

“…I am a very angry homeowner and I call on Sir Jack Hayward, Ian Rolle and Ian Fair, whomever they are to deal with the matter today not tomorrow.”

The GBPA was contacted for comment and issued a brief statement, late yesterday.

“The Grand Bahama Port Authority, Limited (GBPA) and The Grand Bahama Development Company Limited (Devco) wish to inform the public that the incident which occurred today at Fortune Cay Subdivision, regarding the obstruction of access and damage to property, within Fortune Cay, was an unfortunate one, which may have resulted from a court matter that is currently in litigation,” the statement said.

“Due to this pending litigation, GBPA and Devco are unable to comment specifically on the details of the matter, but we are confident that the judicial system will make a fair and final determination of the court action, based upon the merits of the case. We are saddened by the actions taken by the parties today, but it is our hope that they will cease and desist any further action of this nature, and allow our judicial system to operate as it should.”

SHARELL LOCKHART
Freeport News Reporter