Twist in cop killing - Senior police held for murder of constables

2014-02-04 00:00

IN a shocking twist in the murder of two police officers this weekend, the massive manhunt for their killer has come all the way back to their own unit — with the dramatic arrest of a senior police colleague of the slain constables.

Constable Sibusiso Mthethwa (31) and student Constable Thobani Xulu (26) were shot in the head as they sat in the front seats of their police minibus on a roadside in kwaDukuza on Saturday morning.

According to the official police statement on the murders on Sunday, Mthethwa, Xulu and two other police officers were ambushed by three criminals who burst out of the bushes — at least one of whom supposedly climbed into the vehicle and “wrestled” a gun from a policeman in the rear seat.

However, yesterday, Hawks investigators arrested a 53-year-old police officer from kwaDukuza in Stanger for the double police murder — and The Witness understands that another arrest could be imminent.

Last night, Mthethwa’s father Mdukeni Mthethwa was briefed on the arrest personally by Provincial Commissioner Lieutenant General Mmamonnye Ngobeni — and Mthethwa told The Witness the arrested man was “in charge” of the group of police officers in the vehicle.

Mthethwa said, “I’m lost for words. One minute I’m told that my son was killed by criminals while in the line of duty, the next minute I’m told a senior officer who was in charge of the team on that evening was responsible.”

The shock arrest followed a bizarre three days in the case, in which a team including the Hawks, provincial detectives and crime intelligence officers conducted a broad manhunt for the supposed roadside robbers — in the belief that they were after crooks so bold as to attack armed police.

Meanwhile, the police union Popcru and other experts believed the thugs attacked the vehicle in an effort to steal the police officers’ weapons.

The arrest means that somebody at the scene created a false and highly elaborate story to police investigators, which the SAPS then released to the public.

It stated, “On February 1, 2014, four police members from kwaDukuza SAPS were returning from kwaMaphumulo when they saw a red vehicle parked on the side of the road. Three unknown men emerged from the bush and immediately opened fire on the [police] vehicle. One of the suspects got into the vehicle and managed to wrestle a third member for his firearm. The fourth member at the back of the vehicle pulled his firearm and opened fire on the suspects who fled into the bushes.”

Yesterday, provincial spokesperson for the SAPS Colonel Jay Naicker admitted that “we can now discount that version of events”.

But Naicker said, “We were shocked when we heard this could have been done by a member of the SAPS — it is a double shock for us.”

Describing the breakthrough, he said, “A crack team of detectives … from the Hawks were able to piece together what transpired from the evidence on the scene.”

He also revealed that “there might be further arrests”.

Ngobeni told The Witness she understood the arrested man was a police lieutenant, and said, “We are extremely disappointed that one of our own could have perpetrated such a cowardly act. We will ensure that he gets no favours from the SAPS.”

KZN violence monitor Mary De Haas warned that, “If he is a senior officer he [may] have been able to tamper with the crime scene to ensure that part of the evidence is erased. I hope this dedication by the investigators will bring the case to finality.”

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