Officer cleared of sex charge

2010-08-02 00:00

IT was an emotional moment for Pietermaritzburg police officer Vasudevan Sockalingum (34) when he wasfound not guilty on Friday of a charge that he sexually violated a woman who came to the Copesville satellite police station asking for help for her critically ill baby on July 29, 2008.

When the verdict was announced — ending what was described by Sockalingum’s attorney, Anand Pillay, as a two-year “nightmare” for his client — Sockalingum wiped his eyes with his handkerchief.

Immediately afterwards he fled to the lobby to compose himself before rejoining his legal team.

He was almost speechless with emotion, but told The Witness that he is “very relieved”.

Pillay said he is now going to proceed with preparing a civil claim for damages against the minister of Safety and Security on behalf of Sockalingum.

He said that if the police had conducted their investigations properly Sockalingum would never have been charged and put on trial.

“This is a man who has children, a family, who have all been very traumatised.”

Pillay said the charge attracted the media spotlight and the media are obliged to clear Sockalingum’s name.

The woman laid a complaint against Sockalingum with police two days after she claimed he assaulted her sexually when he was alone with her and her dying baby in the police station.

The baby was later declared dead by paramedics and taken away in a mortuary van.

Sockalingum’s denial of guilt was accepted on Friday by regional court magistrate Jaco Jordaan.

Jordaan found in a brief judgment that the evidence given by the complainant was not satisfactory in all material respects, and said Sockalingum’s version was reasonably possibly true.

“If there is any doubt the accused must be given the benefit of it. In my mind such doubt does exist in this case and the accused is acquitted of sexual assault,” Jordaan said.

Sockalingum’s evidence that his superior, Captain Bonginkosi Ngubane, and a colleague, Sergeant Leon Govender, arrived unannounced and gave the woman a lift home at his request was supported when they testified in court.

The defence asked why the woman did not tell Ngubane that she had been molested if her allegations were true. She alleged it was because the other police were Indians and she was scared.

Jordaan said photographs of the satellite police station show that one can see into the charge office from two streets, and any passers-by would have been able to look in.

He said that in these circumstances it is unlikely Sockalingum would have “taken a chance”.

When he gave evidence in his defence, Sockalingum said he would have to have been “insane” to behave as the woman claimed he did.

He denied that he offered her money and a cellphone in exchange for sex or sexually abused her in any way. On the contrary, he said, he was sorry for her and treated her well. When she became hysterical he fetched her some water and tissues to wipe her eyes.

After the mortuary van arrived he had to complete some documentation before releasing the baby to them and by then the mother was calm.

He said that when the van left the woman took all her belongings and followed. He first thought that the mortuary personnel would take her home, but she returned to the charge office and asked for a lift home.

By chance Ngubane and Govender arrived and he asked them to give her a lift.

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