Doctor’s orders on injured man ‘were ignored’

2008-03-13 00:00

Four days after Pietermaritzburg man Andre Vincent Craig died in police custody of injuries he sustained in a car accident in 2003, Camperdown district surgeon Dr Richard Thompson wrote to the South African Police Service’s (Saps) station commander at Hammarsdale and complained that his "explicit" instructions to police regarding Craig’s further treatment the night of the accident were ignored.

This evidence was given yesterday in the high court civil trial in which the Safety and Security minister and police employees are being sued for R1 361 800 by Craig’s widow, Loraine.

She is suing the minister, the charge office commander at Hammarsdale Police Station and policeman Musawakhe Morris Mwandla.

The court has been told that Craig was allegedly drunk on the night of July 19, 2003 and was said to have been driving on the wrong side of the N3 highway when his Toyota Corolla crashed head-on into a BMW, killing the two occupants.

He was placed under arrest.

Craig died the next day in Grey’s Hospital, where he was allegedly only taken some 16 hours after the collision. Police had allegedly ignored earlier pleas by his family to allow him to seek medical help as he had complained of chest pains and vomited blood.

Thompson told Judge Piet Koen that he can no longer remember exactly what happened when Craig was brought to him by the police on the night of the accident to have a blood sample taken to be tested for its alcohol content.

However, he confirmed his report and the contents of a letter he sent to the Hammarsdale station commander dated July 24, 2003, in which he complained that his instructions to the police to take Craig to hospital for x-rays and further assessment, or allow his family to do so, were ignored.

The letter states that Craig was examined by Thompson at about 11.45 pm that night and was found to be under the influence of liquor. It records that he complained of severe chest pain and a shoulder pain and had suffered scratches.

Thompson states that he considered it necessary for x-rays and a further assessment to be done in hospital, but on being told that the Saps did not have members available then to escort Craig to hospital, he felt it was acceptable that he be taken back to the police station, and for Craig’s family members to take him to hospital themselves.

He said he gave explicit instructions to the police with Craig that he must not be placed in a cell and should be in the view of the police at all times in order for his condition to be monitored until his family could take him to hospital.

He said the police did not query his verbal orders and he did not think they would not be carried out. However, it appeared they were "completely ignored".

Thompson told the court he believes he wrote the letter after reading in the newspaper about Craig’s death.

Thompson yesterday denied a suggestion on behalf of the police that he did not give any instructions regarding Craig’s further treatment that night and in fact indicated that Craig was "well".

The case is proceeding.

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