Dewani trial goes to the wire

2011-07-23 18:49

Shrien Dewani’s illness will be the determining factor in District Judge Howard Riddle’s decision on whether to extradite him to South Africa to stand trial in ­connection with the murder of his newlywed bride, Anni Hindocha, in Gugulethu last year.

But South Africa’s inspector of prisons, Judge Deon van Zyl, was accused of bowing to pressure by South African authorities and ­taking sides in the Dewani extradition matter.
Clare Montgomery QC, Dewani’s barrister, told the Belmarsh Magistrates Court in London that Van Zyl, an expert witness called by the prosecutors, was not independent and impartial.

The charge against Van Zyl is particularly serious as the judicial inspectorate which he heads is an oversight body and should be independent.

Earlier, Montgomery said Dewani has been vilified and has been under a persistent “litany of threat” which has been “fuelled by the attitude of the South African authorities”. She referred to the comments by national police commissioner Bheki Cele, branding Dewani a “monkey” and implying he would disclose a sexual ­motive for the murder unless ­Dewani returned voluntarily.

“The promises made may have to be carried out over a long period. If he is, as suggested, a trophy prisoner, just one unprotected walk down a corridor is a nightmare.”

Montgomery argued that the ­potential threat against Dewani was increased because he had been “vilified” and by suggestions that he is homosexual.
This amounted to an abuse of process, according to Montgomery.

She questioned Van Zyl on why he had not made available information to two independent researchers, Amanda Dissel and Sasha Gear, who testified for Dewani on prison conditions in South Africa.

They stressed the likelihood that Dewani would fall victim to gang violence, sexual abuse or HIV/Aids in prison. Montgomery rejected Van Zyl’s assertion that no one was allowed access to the independent prison visitors.

“Even he felt that, given the ­profile of the case, he would be seen as helping Mr Dewani,” she said. “This is the impact of the South African authorities.”

In a drawn-out cross-examination, Montgomery repeatedly questioned Van Zyl about gangs, sexual violence, Aids and rape in South Africa’s jails. Van Zyl, who appeared exasperated, admitted there were problems in South Africa’s prisons, but consistently ­described claims as “exaggerated” and “generalised”.

Van Zyl said these problems would not affect Dewani given the undertakings the correctional services department had given to ensure his safety.

These include close monitoring and detention in a single cell in one of three of its best prisons, Goodwood, Malmesbury Medium A or Brandvlei Medium B.
Another option would be to admit Dewani to Valkenberg psychiatric hospital on his arrival in South Africa.

The arguments of Hugo Keith QC, appearing for the South African authorities, are simple and conventional.

It is a “civilised” country with legal processes and structures equivalent to the ones in Britain. In addition, the procedures to determine whether Dewani is fit to stand trial are similar.

He defended Van Zyl’s reputation, saying Van Zyl was the head of a statutory body and a highly reputable judge who used to sit in the high court.

“To suggest that he put at risk his entire submission by failing to help them (Gear and Dissel), is an outrageous submission,” Keith said.

Keith urged Riddle to take into account that Dewani faces “the most grave of charges”, namely murder. Potential hardship in South Africa should not be an obstacle to extradition.

Dewani was allowed to go back to the Fromeside secure mental hospital in Bristol after an appearance of just 10 minutes.

He was too ill to attend his extradition hearing and is unfit to stand trial, Montgomery told the court, which heard extensive evidence from three psychiatrists on his mental condition.

While the psychiatrists agree that Dewani is suffering from severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, it emerged that he has ignored medical advice and might even have manipulated his blood enzyme levels in order to avoid treatment.

The hearing was told that ­Dewani exercised for hours on end despite symptoms of psychomotor retardation, a condition in which everything is slowed down “as if the person is moving in mud”.

Keith argues that Dewani shows some level of control, can provide information and that nothing suggests that there’s no prospect of his recovery.

Some members of Anni’s extended family who want Dewani to stand trial in South Africa for her murder, say privately they suspect Dewani is exaggerating the extent of his illness.

Keith read from medical records detailing a strenuous ­exercise regime in which Dewani skipped, did sit-ups and push-ups and worked out in a gym during home visits.

Professor Michael Kopelman, a neuropsychiatrist testifying for the South African government, said the treating staff did not suspect deliberate manipulation.

“But we cannot exclude the possibility that there may be some evidence of conscious ­manipulation,” he said.

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