Vergeer relied on old Popcru speech

2014-10-15 11:30
State prosecutor Gerrie Nel in the North Gauteng High Court. (Alon Skuy, Pool, AP)

State prosecutor Gerrie Nel in the North Gauteng High Court. (Alon Skuy, Pool, AP)

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Pretoria - The social worker who testified in Oscar Pistorius's sentencing proceedings has relied on a nine-year-old speech by a union official to back her claims of horrific prison conditions, the North Gauteng High Court has heard.

The speech was made by the then general secretary of the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union, Abbey Witbooi, at a conference in February 2005, prosecutor Gerrie Nel told Annette Vergeer.

He was cross-examining her during sentencing proceedings in the North Gauteng High Court, for Pistorius, found guilty of the culpable homicide of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.


On Tuesday Vergeer presented her report on Pistorius, which the defence had paid her to compile, to the court. In it she recommended that the paralympic athlete get three years of correctional supervision and community service for killing Steenkamp.

She cited prison overcrowding, understaffing, and a lack of facilities for the disabled as the reasons for her recommendation.

Nel asked Vergeer what Witbooi's main concern at that conference was.

"The unwillingness or inability of the department to appoint entry-level staff, as a union official would do," he said, answering his own question.

Nel asked her if she had sent a written request to correctional services for information on prison conditions.

"I didn't get a response to my written request. I was told they didn't want to be exposed," Vergeer replied.

She said she interviewed an official over the phone.


Earlier, Nel accused Vergeer of not knowing how prisons are run.

"What I find very interesting that you want to come to court and deal with conditions in prison and you don't know how the prison is run. How can you do that?" Nel asked her.

"I find it so irresponsible that you would come to court and give an opinion but you don't know anything about the correctional services department and you're employed by another state department."

Vergeer responded: "It is an opinion My Lady, from experience."

Nel said it was "worrying" that Vergeer testified on conditions in prisons but did not verify information she obtained.

She told the court she called the social workers' office in a prison and spoke to a person, who did not want to be named, on the conditions but did not verify the information.

Nel said Vergeer stated it as a fact in her report that prisons did not have facilities like baths for physical disabled people.

She conceded that she never specifically asked if there were baths.

Nel asked Vergeer if she was aware that prisoners could write and request a single cell and that medical staff could also write to authorities suggesting a single cell for a prisoner.

He said that there was a regulation that no medical devices, like prosthesis, be taken away from prisoners.

Vergeer said she did not know that.

"I'm just worried that you come to court as a probation officer in private business and complain about the conditions of prison, but you don't know this," said Nel.

"My lady I don't know every single act," Vergeer said.

She said she testified on her experience and what she had been told in interviews.

On 12 September Judge Thokozile Masipa found Pistorius guilty of the culpable homicide of his girlfriend, model and law graduate Steenkamp, but not guilty of her murder.

Pistorius had claimed he thought there was a burglar in his toilet when he fired four shots through the locked door in the early hours of 14 February last year, killing Steenkamp. The State had argued he killed her during an argument.

Masipa found Pistorius guilty of discharging a firearm in public, when he shot from his friend Darren Fresco's Glock pistol under a table at Tasha's restaurant in Melrose Arch, Johannesburg, in January 2013.

Pistorius was found not guilty on two firearms-related charges - illegal possession of ammunition, and shooting through the open sunroof of a car with his 9mm pistol while driving with friends in Modderfontein on 30 September 2012.

Read more on:    gerrie nel  |  reeva steenkamp  |  oscar pistorius  |  thokozile masipa  |  pistorius trial

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