Applause as ‘hit squad’ get bail

2012-06-23 00:00

THERE were shouts, whistles and applause in the Durban Regional Court yesterday afternoon when regional magistrate Sharon Marks ordered that 18 members of the police Organised Crime Unit based at Cato Manor be released on bail.

They were arrested on Wednesday after the Independent Police Investigation Directorate and the Hawks sent members from outside the province to investigate allegations that members of the unit were operating like a hit squad.

The state is arguing that members of the unit shot suspects dead rather than bringing them to court.

Firearms were allegedly planted after the shooting incidents to make it look as though the deceased had threatened the police officers.

“Not everyone was involved in each of the murders, but over time a pattern of behaviour emerges and the state will argue that there was a common purpose,” said advocate Raymond Mathenjwa for the state.

The detectives indicated that they would plead not guilty to all 71 charges against them, which include 14 murders committed between 2008 and 2011.

When Marks ordered that bail of R5 000 be granted to each of the accused, two of the accused’s wives silently embraced while the court was still in session.

“I am overjoyed, absolutely overjoyed. Justice will triumph,” said Tessa McInnes, the wife of one of the accused.

One of the factors that Marks said influenced her decision was the testimony of Colonel Frank Khola, the investigating officer, that he had waited seven days before executing the warrants of arrest for the suspects. “I could have waited another month if I had wanted to,” Khola testified.

The detectives met at their office in the city on Tuesday night to hand themselves over to the investigators, but were arrested only the next morning when they arrived home.

Marks also pointed out that there was no evidence that the accused had interfered with the six-month investigation or threatened witnesses during that time.

Mathenjwa had argued that witnesses — some of whom saw their loved ones being shot dead — were living in fear of the accused.

“It would make a mockery of the judicial system if these people, who do not even want to tell us why the people were shot, were released on bail,” he argued.

“Bail is not meant to punish people or act as a deterrent. That is what minimum sentences are for,” Marks said.

The accused are expected to hear on August 24 when their hearing will begin in the high court.

Last night National Prosecurting Authority spokesperson Mthunzi Mhaga said: “We may have to consider a witness protection programme for some of the witnesses in view of the decision on bail.” Some of the witnesses are already in the witness protection programme.

Asked whether the two policeman who have allegedly cut a deal with the state would be among those placed in protection, he said: “I am not in a position to comment on that.”

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