Sunday Times must say sorry to Byleveld

2012-06-09 08:24

Johannesburg - The Sunday Times must apologise to former police detective Piet Byleveld for insinuating that he might have accepted a gift from someone who was under investigation, the deputy press ombudsman Johan Retief ruled on Thursday.

"The Sunday Times is directed to apologise to Byleveld for unfairly insinuating in the headline and the intro that he may have been aware of the fact that he had accepted a gift from someone who was under investigation for being part of the notorious Rolex Gang," said Retief.

"Thereby needlessly harming his reputation and integrity.... The intro may have been accurate, but it was not fair because it created the impression that Byleveld knew or ought to have known that Vardas was under investigation -- and that he nevertheless accepted the gift."

Retief said that even though his denial was published later in the story, the insinuation 'needlessly damaged his character and reputation'.

Byleveld and retired jeweller Tony Vardas complained about a front page story in the Sunday Times on February 12, stating Byleveld accepted a wedding band from a man linked to the Rolex Gang.

Among the list of complaints from Byleveld were that the contents of the story and the headline were slanted, and the story falsely suggested the wedding band was obtained through criminal activities.

Vardas complained that the story falsely linked him to the Rolex Gang. The reporter did not ask for his comment or had not tried to verify the information in an affidavit, and the story falsely says that he gave Byleveld a wedding ring.

Retief remarked that if the journalist had reported up front that Byleveld did not know about Vardas' possible link to the Rolex Gang, there probably would not have been a story.

"The intro was therefore carefully construed to allow for the story to follow. This is fundamentally unfair - to create a false impression, only to 'rectify' it later," he said.

"In the meantime, though, somebody's reputation and integrity were needlessly harmed."

Byleveld said he was unaware of an affidavit made by a person linked to the Rolex Gang, but the newspaper denied this report and said Byleveld was aware of Vardas' links to the gang, said Retief.

"I do not think, however, that there is any insinuation that Byleveld could be 'linked' to the gang just because he accepted a gift from a possible suspect," he said.

Person of interest

Retief found that the Sunday Times article was a fair and reasonable reflection of the information it had in its possession regarding Vardas' complaint about being linked to the Rolex Gang.

"I also take into account that nowhere does the story state his 'link' to the gang as fact," said Retief.

"The intro says that he was 'under investigation' [which is apparently true, based on the information obtained from four policemen] and consistently mentions his 'alleged' involvement with the gang."

In February, the Sunday Times reported that Byleveld thanked Vardas for the wedding band in a magazine article.

"He said that is what he wanted to give us, for a wedding present," Byleveld reportedly said.

At the time, Hawks spokesperson McIntosh Polela said Vardas and two others were subjects of an "ongoing investigation".

Vardas was "a person of interest" in the Rolex gang case, other police members told the newspaper.

The gang followed and robbed wealthy people - including Discovery chief executive Adrian Gore, and Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale's wife Judy Sexwale -- of their jewellery. They were most active in Johannesburg's northern suburbs.

Byleveld retired in 2010 after an illustrious police career, during which he arrested some of the country's most notorious criminals.

He said he knew Vardas from a case he investigated "many moons ago", in which Vardas was a witness. Byleveld denied that Vardas was a friend and said Vardas had organised the ring through a jeweller, who measured his then fiancee's finger.

Vardas did not supply her engagement ring.

Retief dismissed Vardas' complaint entirely.

The Sunday Times was directed to publish one of two texts on its front page.

  • Sagin - 2012-06-09 10:22

    bad journalism. taint a top cop and great south africans reputation and all you have to do is apologise? what about the damage done to his reputation? there are too many political strings being pulled at news papers in south africa. free press, what a joke. and now news 24 are you going to delete this post aswell?

      hayden.cajee - 2012-06-09 10:46

      WHAT??? this guy screwed up the Leigh Matthews case, and unless you know whats going on in the back ground, which none of the public do then you are as oblivious as the rest of society.

      Janice - 2012-06-09 11:02

      They must be VERY careful! They are picking on the wrong man here!!!!!

      Revelgen - 2012-06-09 12:39

      Ja, it was a stupid article; I thought so at the time that the Sunday Times were really stretching credibility with this story.

      Squeegee - 2012-06-09 13:47

      Hayden, stop smoking that stuff. Piet solved the Matthews case. Are you one of the 'friends' who helped dump her body?

      sheda.habib - 2012-06-10 09:30 you know something the public should know. if so, it is your duty to tell, otherwise please shut up.

  • nsilongo - 2012-06-09 10:28

    Lets Blame the ANC, how can they allow this exemplary dedicated white man to be villified by the Media huh? why did they not exercise media controll for this, why did they not stop a dont read sunday times campaign, this smacks of racism.

      En - 2012-06-09 10:36

      Please just keep quiet. It's better that way.

      Honker - 2012-06-09 12:20

      lol you really are a massive troll, aren't you? Oh well, here troll, have a carrot... This Nsilongo guy has been hard at work on his trolling so I'd advise anyone to rather just ignore him. If you feed, though, give fresh vegetables but no dairy...he's lactose intolerant.

      Squeegee - 2012-06-09 13:48

      Back down your hole troll!

  • Levett - 2012-06-09 10:47

    Typical racism by sunday times journalists

      Squeegee - 2012-06-09 13:52

      This sort of thing damages their reputation even further. Once you could trust them, now you need to have serious doubts until someone else publishes a story backing them up.

  • joeballito - 2012-06-09 10:53

    Piet Byleveld is a totally honest cop.Stupid mistake by the Sunday times to publish such drivel,sincerely hope Piet sues the pants off them.....

      Honker - 2012-06-09 12:22

      True! The current police force doesn't have this quality, even amongst it's highest ranks. It's the same sad story as with the military - from world class down to totally inadequate.

      Abby - 2012-06-09 22:19

      He accepted a gift dammit! Finger was also measured.\r\nSo what you call it? A bribe or a gift?

  • Tankiso Mogoje - 2012-06-10 09:15

    Their unfounded head line was given a the whole first page in bold letters i quess.But if it comes to a push and they do apologize it will be written in small letters at the bottom of the page were no one will be able see it.Talk about freedom of speech is SA.

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