Poison banana: no one to blame

2010-05-31 00:00

PIETERMARITZBURG magistrate Helgard Fobian ruled on an inquest docket that no one can be held criminally liable for the death of Sewcomaar Brijmohan (63), who died in 2008 eight days after allegedly eating a poison-laced banana intended for monkeys.

No formal inquest was held in the case, which means that no oral evidence was led and the court’s decision was based on written statements.

The inquest docket does not indicate the reasons for the magistrate’s ruling, but legal sources said criminal liability must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. In a case such as this, the court would require conclusive evidence about the cause of the person’s death, which was unavailable as the body had been cremated without a postmortem.

According to a statement by Brijmohan’s son, Milanroy, in the inquest docket, he and his family were asked at Grey’s Hospital if they wanted a post- mortem to be held, but declined.

“I decided not to have a postmortem done on my father. My family and I felt that my father had suffered enough. We wanted this horrible ordeal to be over and to allow my father to rest in peace,” he said.

His father’s body was cremated the next day.

Specialist forensic pathologist Christa Hattingh of the KZN Health Department concluded in her report that Brijmohan’s “chronic medical conditions may also have played a role in the outcome”, but expressed the opinion that the “chain of events started with carbamate poisoning” [caused by the ingestion of the highly hazardous pesticide Temik].

According to the report, Brijmohan suffered from diabetes, hypertension, gout, chronic liver disease and other conditions.

Domestic worker Pretty Mwelase confirmed in her statement that her employer had put “muti”, which “had the appearance of black pepper” into a banana on December 10, 2008, after problem monkeys invaded the house that morning. The banana was put on a table in the garden.

Before she went out ,her employer instructed her to tell the garden services when they arrived not to touch the banana.

Mwelase said she told two employees of the garden services about the banana, but they “looked surprised” and said they had not seen any bananas on the table. One then said the foreman had eaten something.

At first Brijmohan denied he took the banana, but after she told him there was “muti” on it meant for the monkeys he admitted having eaten a “small portion of the banana, but not the part that had black spots”.

She said he asked for milk, which he then drank and said he would “be fine”.

“Even if I did not know the banana had muti on it I would simply not have thought of eating an open banana which had been lying in the sun for a few hours,” she said.

Mwelase said the table was not accessible to other people and not visible from the street.

Brijmohan’s widow, Veena, said on Friday she is still battling to come to terms with her husband’s death.

“I am heartbroken. It was such a bad thing that happened to him. I am a pensioner and he was my sole supporter. Now I have no income.”

She was full of praise for the detectives who handled the matter and said she appreciated their support.

“They said that the inquest found that he ate the banana of his own free will. I don’t know if that is true. He … was so sick that I couldn’t get much information from him …”

She said she “can’t do much” more as she would need money to take the matter any further.

She has been advised she can pursue a civil claim against the Hilton homeowner who put the banana out.

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