Parents’ fight for justice

2016-08-29 13:48
James Sinkins died after a vicious attack by his neighbour's dogs.

James Sinkins died after a vicious attack by his neighbour's dogs. (File)

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“I bent to pick him up. He was whimpering and had a look in his beautiful brown eyes which seemed to be asking, ‘Why mommy?’ It is a vision that will haunt me for the rest of my life.”

These are the words of grieving mother Estelle Sinkins in a statement made to police following the death of her son James (8), a child with special needs, in a vicious dog attack in the Howick district last December.

Sinkins, the former Witness arts editor, rescued James from the jaws of the neighbour’s two dogs and rushed him to Howick’s Mediclinic hospital. He died two days later, hours after being transferred to the ICU at St Anne’s.

The attack happened as Sinkins was about to drive out of her gate on an assignment, leaving James playing outside her parents’ cottage in their yard. She had blown him a kiss goodbye.

As she closed the gate, she saw their family dog, Jessie, “whining, barking” and trying to get through a fence in the area where James was. Alarmed by the pet’s strange behaviour, Sinkins raced to the scene.

“It’s a sight that will haunt me for the rest of my life. My neighbour’s black wolf-like dogs were attacking James.

“One of the dogs had grabbed him around the neck and the other had a hold of his leg. They were dragging him. I can’t describe the horror and panic I felt,” said Sinkins.

As she ran to her son, she felt she was “running through treacle” slowing her down.

She says when she got to him she “thinks” she managed to get the dogs away by shouting and screaming at them.

“When I looked down at James I could see blood and some puncture wounds, but I didn’t know how serious they were. I could see the dogs in my peripheral vision.”

She said the dogs were “prowling” and she fully expected them to attack her, but did not care as she was focused on James.

Then her father arrived to help and James was rushed to hospital. Tragically the injuries he sustained cost him his life.

Now his traumatised parents, Estelle and Graydon, are on a quest to get justice for their little boy, but are afraid the justice system is letting them down.

Sinkins confirmed on Friday that she had made representations to the office of the KZN director of prosecutions after a “really horrible experience” with the senior public prosecutor assigned to the case.

Sinkins alleges that the prosecutor concerned was “frankly not supportive” when he visited her and Graydon at their home a week ago.

“He almost completely dismissed me despite the fact that I am an eye witness in the case,” she said.

Sinkins said she had requested a meeting with chief prosecutor Nonhlanhla Dlamini to discuss the “prosecutor’s behaviour”.

She had also written to the office of the KZN prosecutions director.

Sinkins has also gone to the media and given a radio interview to publicise her pain and concerns.

A distraught Sinkins told The Witness that her husband was also very upset by the prosecutor’s visit.

She said after finding the initial police investigation into James’s death wanting, she and Graydon approached the area commander of the uMgungundlovu North police cluster.

This had an “immediate response” and the new investigation headed by Captain Eshone Manikum got the results they hoped for.

Sinkins said the evidence includes statements from all the doctors who treated James, the hospitals, SPCA staff who fetched the dogs and “were placed in danger by them”, a dog trainer who allegedly refused to work with the animals on grounds they were too aggressive, and new forensic evidence and images.

Sinkins, however, alleges that the prosecutor who visited them told her husband he was “concerned” that she would not make a good witness, that they could not prove the fence was unsafe, that Sinkins was “somehow negligent in the care of my son”, and that they could not prove that it was their neighbour’s dogs that attacked James. He also allegedly discouraged them from pursuing a civil case, saying it would cost a lot and allegedly “hinted” it would impact on the couple’s reputation if they lost. Sinkins said they were left with the “distinct impression” that the prosecutor was not keen to take the case to court and this had brought her to her “lowest point”. Sinkins said their family had a history of problems with the same neighbour’s dogs, which allegedly savaged their cat Pebbles to death on December 25, 2011, and killed their elderly black labrador, Bonzo, during the night of March 23, 2014.

On both occasions one of the dog’s owners allegedly apologised. He allegedly offered to buy them another cat, says Sinkins, and when Bonzo was killed begged her not to carry out her intention to call the SPCA to put the dogs down. “He said they were his son’s pets and dearly loved by him. I wasn’t keen to change my mind, but I am also not the kind of person who kills animals without reason.” Though worried about the safety of their other pets and family members, she agreed not to take action, in exchange for the neighbour’s guarantee that he would fix his fencing to prevent the dogs getting out, she said. “I also told him I believed the dogs posed a real danger to my son James, who has special needs, and stated that if they came across him they would in all probability kill him,” she added.

NPA spokesperson Natasha Kara confirmed the prosecutions director’s office had received Sinkins’ representations and said the director would study them together with a report by the chief prosecutor regarding the allegations against the prosecutor concerned.

She said the prosecutor was not allowed to speak to the media himself.

Kara added that the chief prosecutor had sent the family an e-mail and intended to discuss the matter with them. She would also deal with the case in future.

After the meeting a report would be sent to the prosecutions director.

“The conduct of the prosecutor will be looked into to determine if it was untoward,” she said.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg

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