Henri van Breda questioned in an ice cold room wearing only his underpants, court hears

2017-04-24 20:56
Henri van Breda (File, Jaco Marais, Netwerk24)

Henri van Breda (File, Jaco Marais, Netwerk24)

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Cape Town - Henri van Breda was questioned in an ice cold room wearing only his underpants and was not told his rights, he alleged in his plea explanation in the Western Cape High Court on Monday.

He pleaded not guilty to axing his parents and brother to death, seriously injuring his sister and defeating the ends of justice.

Van Breda, 22, alleges an intruder wearing a balaclava, gloves and dark clothes was behind the attack and that he had heard other voices of people speaking Afrikaans in their home in the De Zalze Estate in Stellenbosch that morning in 2015.

He said he had pursued the suspect who had axed his family, but that the man had escaped.

He claimed he had tried to phone the emergency services after the intruder fled, but didn’t know the number.

He tried to phone his then girlfriend, but was unable to reach her too.

“I also tried to Google the emergency number on my phone,” he said.

He ascended the stairs after hearing his brother Rudi in the bedroom and as he went toward the second floor he saw his sister Marli moving on the landing.

“The last thing I recall seeing is Marli and my mom. I then lost consciousness. I am unsure whether this was due to shock or to the injuries that I sustained when I fell down the stairs [while pursuing the suspect earlier] or a combination of both.”

Henri claimed to have gained consciousness later when it was already light outside.

He was still disorientated, but saw Marli moving, he said. Rudi was also still making what sounded like gurgling sounds in the room, he alleged.

“I also recall seeing blood on the vertical side of one of the stairs where I had lain. I assume that this must have been my own blood,” he said in his plea explanation, read by his advocate Pieter Botha.

His phone was lying at the bottom of the stairs and he picked it up to phone an ambulance.

“I looked at the emergency numbers on the fridge door, but they did not appear to me to be of any assistance.”

He found an emergency number on his cellphone and dialled it. He said he was not sure how many times he tried calling it, but the State had provided him with his cellphone records and it appeared he had tried calling the number twice, both times “unsuccessfully”.


He tried again from the cordless phone. He claimed to have panicked and lit a cigarette in the kitchen to remain calm so that he could communicate better with the operator, to whom he got through.

South Africans in the past had difficulty understanding his Australian accent and he has a stutter at times which worsens when he is under stress, Henri said. He also has a “tendency to mumble”.

He tried to speak calmly and clearly, but “struggled for a very long time to get the operator to send an ambulance”.

He again tried to call his girlfriend and she didn’t answer, and outside the house also asked a person to get help.

Henri said once the first police officers arrived on the scene, he told them to go upstairs.

“Once they arrived the adrenaline and the feeling that I should be doing something to help started to dissipate and I could feel myself going into shock.”

His stab wounds were dressed by an ambulance crew.

“At some stage the police took my grey sleeping pants and white socks that I was wearing, leaving me dressed only in boxer shorts,” he said.

He was led to a police vehicle by two officers and told he was being taken for medical attention, he said.

“They enquired about the race of my attackers. I replied that I only saw one and that I think that the one I saw was black.

“I overheard them saying that Marli had been administered a drug that makes her ‘wide awake and telling us everything’. I enquired about my family members, but they refused to provide me with any details.”

At the police station, one of the officers collected a plastic bag and documents before taking him to a doctor, who filled out a J88 form which noted his injuries.

“At one point, one of the officers asked the doctor in Afrikaans if it would be possible to say if my wounds were self-inflicted. I cannot recall which one of them asked the question. The doctor replied in Afrikaans that she ‘sal sien wat ons kan doen’ [will see what they can do].”

Only in underpants

He said he was then taken to the detectives’ offices where he was “made to wait in a communal office with officers coming and going dressed only in my underpants”.

He was given cigarettes and a bottle of Coke, while an officer returned with food and drinks for the rest of them, Henri said in his plea agreement.

“They then moved me to another office, which had the air-conditioning turned down to make the room ice cold. I was visibly shivering from the cold.

“After waiting in this office with police officers around for a while, a large man arrived, whom I later learned was Colonel Beneke. [He] came in, poured himself a Coke and without introduction, told me that he ‘does not believe a word of [my] bullshit story’.”

At Beneke’s request, Henri said he repeated to him what had happened a number of times and repeatedly inquired about his family but “was denied any information”.

Beneke ostensibly said that Marli was “telling them everything” and asked if his version would be the same as hers. Henri said yes.

He said he was again asked what had happened before another officer was told to take his statement and type it, saying he could leave once it was signed.

“I waited in a tiny office with a computer and printer for the officer to type up what he either had written down earlier or what he recalled from memory.

“By the time that the statement was being typed up, I was extremely exhausted due to the fact that I had not slept for a long period of time. I was also still in shock. The last time I had anything to eat was the previous evening.”

At that stage, he just “wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible”.

‘Some inaccuracies’

“Although my statement was not correct in all aspects, I did not want to sit around correcting the officers and reliving the trauma of the night before with another retelling of what had happened.

“Although the gist of what was written down is correct, the statement does contain some inaccuracies and also does not contain all of the detailed information that I conveyed to the officers.

“It also contains a number of grammatical errors, probably due to the fact that the statement is a paraphrased version by an Afrikaans speaking officer.”

He said he was at no stage told that he had the right to remain silent or to legal representation.

“Had I realised at the time that the police would be using the statement as evidence against me, I would most certainly have asked for an opportunity to consult with a legal representative.

“Although I have nothing to hide and would probably have provided them with my version I would have been able to provide a far more accurate and comprehensive version than the one obtained in the statement.”

He said he was “severely prejudiced” by police who are now “holding me to each and every word contained in a statement that was taken from me”.


The first officer at the scene, Sergeant Adrian Kleynhans, also testified on the first day of the trial, saying Henri had been emotional, but not crying when he arrived at the scene that morning.

When he pulled up outside the Goske Street house, Henri came out through the front door in his underwear.

Kleynhans said he smelt alcohol on his breath.

The officer testified that besides the bloody axe on the stairs, the ground floor appeared fine, with valuables, such as a handbag and laptop, all in place.

The weapon was the first sign of something being wrong, Kleynhans told the court. When he ascended the stairs, he found Marli and Teresa.

He phoned for help when Marli's arm and leg moved and he realised she was still alive.

He took cellphone photos of the scene before allowing paramedics to work on Marli. While taking the photos, he saw Rudi and Martin’s bodies in the room.

The sergeant said when he walked through the family’s house, he saw the kitchen door was ajar and the windows were slightly open. There was no sign of forced entry, he said.

There was also a paper with emergency numbers stuck to the fridge, near where cigarettes butts had been killed on the kitchen floor, Kleynhans said.

An in loco inspection will take place at De Zalze on Tuesday.

Read more on:    henri van breda  |  cape town  |  van breda trial  |  van breda murders

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