No bail for rape accused

2016-07-19 13:12

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Pietermaritzburg - The parents of children who say they were abused by their former school guidance counsellor, and their supporters, were relieved on Monday when the 32-year-old man was denied bail.

However, his attorney, Siva Chetty, said the defence did “not agree with the magistrate’s ruling” and he had already set the wheels in motion to appeal to the high court.

Magistrate M. Boikhutso said she found nothing exceptional in the counsellor’s evidence supporting his bail application.

In his affidavit, the man said he believes the case against him is “malicious and fabricated”, and someone was “out to catch and destroy him”.

“I cannot help but wonder why [someone would frame him] if he was doing such a good job [as a professional counsellor]?” she said.

Boikhutso said there were no allegations of “bad blood” between the counsellor and anyone else.

She said he had no previous convictions or pending cases and was reportedly very involved in the community, professionally and in sport.

He is single and has family in KZN, but is renting property and does not own any assets. She therefore regarded him as a flight risk.

Boikhutso said she accepts that the alleged victims and other children from the school were currently in their parents’ custody, and that the former counsellor “may not have an opportunity” to interfere with them.

However, the fact remained that “most of the complainants” came forward after his first court appearance and the ensuing publicity. Boikhutso said this showed perhaps that some victims were too scared to come forward before.

She noted that two more charges of sexual assault were added to the charge sheet after he first appeared in court, which seemed to support this.

Boikhutso said it was also important to note that the alleged offences happened on the school premises. Although the counsellor no longer works there, he apparently still enjoys much support from his fellow teachers, she said.

She found it was possible that the counsellor could tamper with evidence or influence witnesses if given bail.

“The defence has said that he is a broken man and he must be given a chance, despite what the public says. I agree the court’s decision cannot be based on the public,” she said.

Notwithstanding this, she found it was not in the interests of justice to grant him bail. “Witnesses must be protected,” she added.

In the gallery yesterday was Education MEC Mthandeni Dlungwana, who said later he was “excited” by the bail ruling. “We are satisfied that justice will be served in the case,” he said.

The MEC was represented at the hearing by advocate Mergen Chetty, who told the magistrate he was briefed by the state attorney to keep a watching brief on the proceedings.

Another lawyer, Terrence Chetty of Naren Sangham & Associates, also later confirmed that his firm was hired by some of the parents to monitor the trial’s progress.

Parents who spoke to The Witness after the hearing said they were happy that the counsellor was refused bail.

The man faces two counts of rape and two of sexual assault of boys aged seven to 10 years. The state alleged in the hearing that the counsellor targeted dysfunctional children or those with learning difficulties who were referred to him for counselling.

The mother of the two boys who are the subject of the rape charges said after the hearing that her third son, who is much younger, had also claimed abuse at the counsellor’s hands, but the matter is still under investigation.

“This case has had a terrible impact emotionally and financially on us as a family and on my children. Whenever they see someone who just looks like him [the counsellor], they come running to me to hide,” she said.

The woman said she has already placed her children at other schools.

“My children are broken [by their ordeal],” she said, adding that two of her sons were abused over a period of three years, which had been confirmed by medical reports.

Another mother whose young son had reportedly been abused but whose case is not yet on the charge sheet, said she kept him home from school yesterday until she decides what to do.

Magistrate M. Boikhutso started her judgment with a word to the media who lined the front of the court.

She warned them that they ought to research the law about whether they were entitled to name the accused before reporting on “sensitive cases” such as the present one.

“I know some of you may be new, but you should be careful about what you can report … check with your seniors,” she said in apparent reference to the fact that certain publications chose to publish a photograph and name the counsellor.

The Witness has made its stance clear that it will not break the law or its ethical duty to protect the identities of the alleged victims of the sexual abuse by naming either the counsellor or the school.

Education MEC Mthandeni Dlungwana confirmed after the hearing that disciplinary steps are in the process of being instituted against the principal of the counsellor’s school and “other individuals”.

The school governing body chairperson told The Witness, however, that the SGB was not aware of any disciplinary action at this stage. He added, however, that they were due to meet with department officials yesterday afternoon.

The MEC hugged a parent in the foyer at court after the hearing, and was heard promising to assist her to place her child/children at a different school.

He told the media that the department has so far assisted four sets of parents to place their children at new schools. This was the fifth, he said.

He again pledged the department’s commitment to protecting the primary school pupils and said they are monitoring the school concerned on an ongoing basis.

As children returned for the first day of the new school term yesterday, he was satisfied that lessons were taking place as usual at the school, he added.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  sex abuse  |  school counsellor  |  child abuse

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