Cops’ bungle costs state

2011-04-14 00:00

A SCOTTBURGH holidaymaker who was wrongfully arrested in November 2007 was awarded R35 000 in damages plus interest at the rate of 15,5% per annum from January 8, 2008, plus punitive costs, by the local magistrate’s court last week.

The victim, wishing to remain anonymous, is referred to as Tom. His cellphone was stolen while he and his family were on the beach.

Returning to their accommodation, Tom’s fiancée picked up an urgent message on her cellphone from Tom’s mother, saying that his cellphone was at Scottburgh police station.

They went to fetch it and upon reporting to the police at Scottburgh at about 5 pm that day — 13 November 2007 — their holiday descended into horror.

The police arrested Tom on suspicion of sodomising an 11-year-old boy in the ablution block at Scottburgh main beach.

Tom’s strong denials were ignored and he was transferred to Umzinto police station, where he was detained in the police cells until the morning of 15 November, when he was taken to Scottburgh Magistrate’s Court.

The police decided that sufficient “probable cause” had been established to arrest and detain Tom, but they never charged him with any offence.

He was released at about 10.30 am without appearing in court and having spent about 46 hours in detention.

Immediately after his release, Tom brought a civil action for unlawful arrest against the Minister of Safety and Security, which was tried before the chief magistrate of Scottburgh, K.M. Shandu.

Evidence showed that the culprit, who had stolen Tom’s phone on the beach and who was never identified, then perpetrated the sodomy and “paid off” his victim by giving him the cellphone he had stolen from Tom shortly before.

Shandu gave judgment in favour of Tom on November 4, 2010.

The issue of quantum of damages was left for the two parties to negotiate, but they failed to agree.

As a result, the court heard argument on the matter on March 6, 2011, with Tom’s attorney, Joe de Wet, arguing for damages of R100 000.

State attorney Rakesh Nirghan, on behalf of the minister, countering with “between R10 000 and R15 000”.

The magistrate was scathing in his criticism of the experience Tom had suffered.

He said that the defendant’s failure to bring Tom before the court suggested that the state knew that it had a weak case.

That and the subsequent intransigence in settling the case, said the magistrate, “left me in no doubt that the defendant could have handled this whole matter in a far less frustrating manner and the court has to express its displeasure at such conduct”.

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