Assassination of a Prime Minister
by Ananda Jayasena
Snr. Suptd. of Police (Rtd.)
In mid 1958, the 1957 batch of Sub-Inspector Trainees were passed out from the Police Training School, Kalutara, and were posted to Headquarters Police Stations on their request. Elmo Chandiram was posted to Slave Island, and yours truly was posted to Colpetty. During this period Burgher officers were dominating the Police Service. Cecil Wambeck was the Superintendent of Police, Colombo, and A.S.P. Central was Flamer-Caldera, under whose purview Colpetty and Slave Island Police came. E. C. Hopman was O.I.C. Slave Island, whilst Fred Anderson was O.I.C. Colpetty Police.
Colpetty Police, at that time was at the same place where the present station is, but was in an old dilapidated Dutch building. The O.I.C.'s quarters, policemen's married quarters, were all at the same site. The premises extended from Galle Road to Duplication Road. On the right side of the Police Station was ‘Temple Trees’ - the official residence of the Prime Minister. These two buildings were separated by a common wall.
The entire strength at Colpetty at the time was 3 I.Ps, 3 S.Is, 8 sergeants, and 50 P.Cs with 3 Police drivers. In early 1959, Wambeck was promoted as a D.I.G. and Harry Vanden-Drisen came as S.P. Colombo. W. T. Sanders was brought in as O.I.C. Colpetty. I.P. Liyanage was O.I.C. Crimes, S.I. Illangakoon was in charge of Traffic, Rodney Aluvihare was O.I.C. M.O. Branch, and yours truly, being still not confirmed as Sub-Inspector, was O.I.C. Miscellaneous Branch.
During this time, S.I. Newton Perera had finished his Inspector's Class Training at Kalutara and was brought as I.P. Administration Colpetty, over and above the required strength. This type of things happened very seldom.
I.P. Newton Perera had joined the police as a constable, and had been extra intelligent and got his promotions very fast. He had a very good command of the English language and knew his work. Higher officers had a high regard for Newton Perera. He had a Morris Tourer car and came to Colpetty daily from the Maradana Police Flats. One thing he hated was to drive his car, and I who did not have a car made maximum use of his car.
I.P. Newton Perera and I shared the same room at the Police Station and we became very good friends. Every Tuesday and Thursday our Traffic and Vice cases were taken up at the Municipal Magistrate's Court, Maligakanda. Newton Perera conducted all these cases, and I as a learner had to go to Courts and learn my prosecution from him.
Ossie Corea, an ex-Excise Inspector who stayed at Kotahena was a personal friend of Newton Perera. He too had a similar Morris Tourer. He came to see Newton Perera at least thrice a week and at times the two of them went out for two-three hours at a stretch to an unknown destination.
Mrs. Wimala Wijewardena - the then Minister of Health, once rang up Newton Perera and wanted him to come to her residence at Bullers Lane. After about half-an-hour’s search, I traced Newton Perera and conveyed the message. He appeared at the Police Station and wanted me to drive him to Bullers Lane and bring back the car so that he could find his transport back. When I went to drop him, I saw Ossie Corea's car too parked in the premises of Mrs. Wimala Wijewardena.
Newton Perera was a popular man. One day, Mr. Sidney de Zoysa, D.I.G., came driving his car 2 Sri 2139 Singer Talbot. He parked his car outside Colpetty Police, and was chatting to Newton Perera for about 15 minutes.
Newton Perera was a man of high principles; he respected authority, after he became an Inspector of Police, he gradually receded from his earlier friends and started to move with higher society. The only person he continued his friendship with was his friend Kalyanaratne of 505 Garage, Union Place, Slave Island.
On the 26th of September 1959 - the day S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike was shot by an assailant, we had a specially fixed case of a fatal motor accident coming before Mr. T. Vaithyalingam, who was the Municipal Magistrate at the time. Mr. A. C. M. Ameer, who was earlier the Attorney-General was appearing for this case and I was a witness for the prosecution. This case was specially fixed for 2.00 p.m. on that day.
When we were in Courts around 1.00 p.m. Newton Perera requested me go in his car to Lake House and buy a current ‘Readers Digest’ magazine from the book stall which was at the Lake House. When I returned with a copy from Eye Hospital Junction, Newton Perera asked me whether there was any disturbances around the Eye- Hospital Junction and I replied in the negative. About half- an-hour later news reached Courts of the shooting of the Prime Minister by a Buddhist priest at his Rosmead Place residence and that he had been removed to the General Hospital, Colombo, in a serious condition.
The Court immediately adjourned after postponing the specially fixed case and we left Court to come to the Colpetty Police Station. Very strangely, Newton Perera took the wheel and I got on to the left hand side front seat. He drove down Kynsey Road, turned right to Rosmead Place. There was posse of Policemen who were controlling the crowds at Wijerama Mawatha - Rosmead Place junction. On seeing us in uniform, we were allowed to go to Alexandra Place. We drove back to the station. One thing I noticed on our return journey was that Newton Perera was taciturn and was in a pensive mood. At the Police Station we got down two packets of lunch to the station and had it there and attended to our work till evening. Newton Perera left to his Maradana quarters around 6.30 p.m. and I left to the Fort Inspectors' Mess, where I lived, around 7.00 p.m.
The talk of the town was the assassination of the Prime Minister.
On the following morning, we heard over the radio that Mr. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike had passed away after not regaining consciousness The operation on the Prime Minister had been performed by the eminent surgeon P. R. Anthonys.
It must be mentioned that this was the only case where a postmortem examination had not been held in a case of murder. At the Courts, Dr. Anthonys had spoken of the injuries in detail and had given the cause of death.
After inquiry proceedings were over, the slain body of the Prime Minister was brought to the Parliament at Galle Face for the members of the public to pay their last respects. The body was kept there for 2 1/2 days and 2 nights. I was on duty on all days. One day, I remember the queues extended to Bambalapitiya and the other towards Fort and Maradana. The tail of the southern queue was near Savoy Theatre.
As the influx of mourners were so much, duties were divided by eight hour shifts. On the second night shift, A. S. P. David Thambia, I.P. Sanders, I.P. Newton Perera, S. I. Rodney Aluvihare and I were on duty at the entrance to the Parliament. Around 2.00 a.m., I.P. Newton Perera called me to go to the Parliament and view the body. Both of us climbed the flight of steps, he in front I immediately behind him, went near the body of the slain Prime Minister. Both of us came to attention and saluted. Newton Perera was looking at the body for a few minutes. Whilst climbing down the flight of steps Newton placed his arm on my shoulder and said "These are God's cases and the culprits will be punished one day."
On the 3rd day at about 10.00 a.m. the dead body was removed to Horagolla for burial. There had been a massive crowd at Horagolla and crowd control was under the supervision of S.S.P. Traffic, Harold Mendis.
Time went by; after about two weeks about five C.I.D. Officers came and spent 3-4 days at Colpety Police Station and went through the Information Book carefully and took about 15 Information Books into their custody. I.P. Seneviratne and S.I. Ingram of the C.I.D. were in charge of this job. One day S.P. Colombo, Van-den-Greesen telephoned O.I.C. Colpetty and told him that the CID had informed him that Newton Perera will be arrested. The S.P. was wild and wanted to inform Newton Perera that he should not get into uniform as he will be arrested for this murder. I was given a vehicle and I went to Maradana Police Station and visited the 2nd floor - Inspector’s Quarters where Newton Perera lived. When I went, he was there. I conveyed the message of S.P. Colombo to him. He said he knew about it and showed me 4 or 5 CID Officers who were hovering around his house.
Whilst returning back to Colpetty, my mind went back to the days of Newton Perera meeting Ossie Corea often and going to Mrs. Wimala Wijewardena's house and furthermore sending me to Lake House on the very day at the identical time the Prime Minister was shot under the pretext of bringing a ‘Reader's Digest’.
I was not frightened as I did not know any of the things that happened.
The Bandaranaike assassination case was inquired into by the S. A. Dissanayake, DIG - CID, ably assisted by Aleric Abeygunawardena and John Attygalle both S.Ps and I.P. Tyrell Gunatillake.
The evidence against Newton Perera had been that he taught priest Somarama how to handle a small firearm and he took Somarama for revolver practices at Muthurajawila and to Talduwa. He was said to have shot at ‘kaduru’ fruit at Muturajawela paddy fields.
After inquiries the CID filed plaint against all accused for murder and conspiracy to kill the Prime Minister. Some accused received the death sentence and Newton Perera was sentenced to jail for a long time. They appealed against this to the Privy Council and the Privy Council acquitted Newton Perera of murder and confirmed the death sentence on a few.
After he was released from the remand prison, he was served with a Charge Sheet by the Police Department and found guilty of all the charges and he was dismissed from the Police Department. He changed his western dress and got into a national costume and lived in a house at Hedges Court close to Hayleys Limited, Maradana, and worked for a private firm. He also changed his name to Weerasooriya. His wife was a Staff Nurse attached to the Department of Physical Medicine, General Hospital Colombo, till she retired from the Health Department in the late 60s.