Evidence missing in Neil Aggett's inquest despite being 'plagued by long delays' - court hears

2020-01-20 18:57
Anti-apartheid activist Dr Neil Aggett. (Media24, Beeld, file)

Anti-apartheid activist Dr Neil Aggett. (Media24, Beeld, file)

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Twenty-four files containing vital information of former security branch members involved in an inquest into anti-apartheid activist Dr Neil Aggett's death in 1982, have seemingly gone missing or are unavailable, Webber Wentzel's Howard Varney told the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg on Monday.

The files, Varney said, contain the personal information of the members, as well as a complete record of their careers.

This includes cases they've been involved in and possible complaints or charges against them.

The reopened inquest kicked off on Monday, with Aggett's family hoping to overturn the findings of the 1982 inquest which found that he committed suicide 70 days into his detention at the infamous John Vorster Square police station.

There are a number of officers who the investigating officer Frank Kgamanyane could not trace to make a statement.

Because of this, Varney said the South African Police Service should be called to explain why these files are no longer available.

Kgamanyane testified that he had tried to track down former security branch members as well as witnesses involved in Aggett's case during apartheid.

Kgamanyane said some of these officers were untraceable, some had died and others had not submitted a statement.

Exhibits were also missing, including pages from the record, affidavits and "most telling photographs of the crime scene and the post-mortem, which are particularly unfortunate", Varney said.

He added that legal submissions would have to be made as to whether the missing exhibits have "any material impact" on the case.

Next month will be the 38th anniversary of Aggett's death and the family have made multiple attempts to reopen the inquest into his death.

Speaking of the previous investigating officer before Kgamanyane, Varney lamented a lack of evidence in the case, despite the years it had taken to get to court.

"This case, as with most of the other TRC cases, had been plagued by long delays.

"We were particularly upset that after we brought the Aggett case to the attention of SAPS and the NPA in January 2016, it took four years to get to the point where we are today.

"This is not really apparent in the documents put up so far - what happened during the course of the investigation?" Varney asked.

Yasmin Sooka, a former Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) commissioner and human rights expert, told News24 there is a problem in the way old apartheid-era files are handled. 

"One of the problems we have is the way in which these files are being filtered through different bodies, and in effect you have the files of people implicated being given back the implicated party, that makes you wonder, when you go through these files, what you might find. 

"This is why Howard [Varney] made a huge statement around the question of the personal history of many of the policemen implicated," she said. 

These files, Sooka said, gave a record of the "kind of operation" these officers were involved in. 

"This allows us to get a sense of, are these people we can map into the process," she said. 

Despite the issues surrounding evidence of this nature, Sooka is optimistic there will be enough evidence to make solid representations to the court. 

"Nevertheless, what we will certainly have is access to information that will give the court a very good picture.

"The big question will be, if you ever come to the point where you have to indict somebody, will you have sufficient evidence? Because that will be a very different standard in a criminal matter," Sooka said. 

Read more on:    saps  |  neil aggett
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