Dewani effect makes SA dial-a-hitman land

2011-02-05 16:31

West Cape News has confirmed receiving in ­October last year an email from a man calling himself Michael Kirkham, who claimed to be a London photojournalist keen on doing a story about how easy it was to hire a hitman in South Africa.

He had asked West Cape News to organise interviews with self-confessed criminals.

The Cape Town-based news agency accepted the “fixing” job – not an unusual request from a foreign reporter – and a fee was set.

But Kirkham was not what he seemed. His real name was Shumsheer Singh Ghumman. He was a London finance manager and police claim he was looking for a real hitman to murder one Philip Rhind, the father of a woman, Hannah, whom he had been convicted of harassing.

Arrested in January, he is in custody in Cape Town, charged with conspiracy to murder, ­attempted murder, arson and malicious damage to property.

In an earlier email sent to me (Ray J), Ghumman (posing as photojournalist Kirkham) attached a BBC YouTube link to an interview with two violent criminals in Johannesburg, who bragged on camera how they were happy to murder for money, as an example of the type of person he wanted to ­“interview”.

The link can be seen on YouTube.

He told West Cape News he wanted to ­interview “the type of individuals who carjacked Anni and Shrien Dewani”.

Someone like the main character in the film, Tsotsi, would be ideal. “However, I do want to meet someone who has absolutely no compunctions about behaving with appalling violence.”

West Cape News set up interviews with three people in Cape Town’s Philippi township who were willing to talk.

“Kirkham” disappeared after paying only half the agreed fee, and when West Cape News editor Steve Kretzmann Googled him, he found no articles published by a “Michael Kirkham”, but he let the matter lie.

Then, on Wednesday night this week, West Cape News reporter Sandiso Phaliso, who had acted as guide and translator to “Kirkham”, received a visit from the police and one of the “hitmen”, who claimed “Kirkham” had allegedly tried to hire him to murder someone in Cape Town.

Said Phaliso: “The ‘hitman’ told me that Kirkham phoned him the day after the interview and invited him for drinks in Long Street, Cape Town. He then allegedly ­offered him R10 000 to kill his ‘girlfriend’s father’.

“?‘Kirkham’ said that if the girlfriend also died, it ‘didn’t matter’,?” the man told Phaliso.

He claimed “Kirkham” drove him to a house in Camps Bay where the intended ­victim lived.

In the end, he declined the offer and eventually went to the police.

On January 14, Rhind’s Camps Bay home was firebombed. Three petrol bombs were thrown into Rhind’s home, one of which did not explode. The tyres of Rhind’s car were ­also slashed.

A source said the incident was captured on a neighbouring CCTV camera.

A week later Ghumman, who was staying at a backpacker’s lodge in Long Street, was arrested in connection with the attacks.

On Friday Rhind said his daughter had met Ghumman at “an up-market business club in Pall Mall, London, in mid-2009 and he ­wanted to walk her home”.

He then “started bombarding her with text messages and emails”, said Rhind, adding that after a month of enduring harassment his daughter ­contacted him.

He warned Ghumman to desist, but he ­allegedly then began harassing Rhind as well, sending threatening text messages.

Rhind said the harassment got so bad that his daughter “at times was wary of even ­going to work and opening up her laptop”.

In August last year the South Western Magistrate’s Court in the UK found ­Ghumman guilty of harassment, fined him and sentenced him to community service.

Ghumman appealed the ruling and the hearing was set for January 27 this year.

“In the meantime, I guess he thought he could come out here and intimidate us,” said Rhind.

Ghumman, an Australian citizen of Indian birth, is employed by Daiwa Asset Management in London.

A phone call to Daiwa ­established that Ghumman was not at work and had been on leave for an extended period. It was also not known when he would return.

Rhind’s lawyer, William Booth, said Rhind and his wife were the only people at home on the night they were attacked.

Booth said he intended to oppose bail for Ghumman as he was a flight risk and had proved himself “a danger to society”.

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