KZN school principal's lawyers accused of trying to collapse his fraud trial

2017-08-24 19:58

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Durban - Lawyers acting for former Glenwood High School headmaster Trevor Kershaw - who is charged with helping himself to school funds - have been accused of trying to collapse and "avoid" the trial in which he is facing 1 624 charges of theft and fraud.

This was the submission on Wednesday by State prosecutor Wendy O’Brien in response to an application, brought on the day the trial was to begin, challenging the charge sheet.

Gideon Scheltema, SC, for Kershaw, claimed that the trial could not begin because the defence had been "swamped" with thousands and thousands of documents, in electronic form, which they could not link to specific charges.

Scheltema also claimed that the forensic auditor, Eckhard Volker, was not impartial and had, in his report, made references to Kershaw’s character, labelling him as having an "aggressive management style, bordering on autocratic and being a bully".

O’Brien, arguing before Durban Specialised Commercial Crime Court Magistrate Judy Naidoo, said the State found itself in a "damned if you do, damned if you don’t" position because the defence was, in fact, suggesting that it had been supplied with too much information.

She said, in the majority of commercial crime offences, delays were used to "avoid a trial".

Quoting a "cynical view", she said: "An incompetent lawyer can delay a trial for months or years. A competent one can delay it even longer."

"They (the defence) have raised more points here than a porcupine."

'Just an attempt to exclude evidence'

O’Brien said, if the defence had difficulty with the electronic documents, it should have raised this issue a long time ago.

"A big hoo-ha was made of the fact that, when he was arrested, he was facing one charge of fraud, and only after the forensic report became available did the State draft a new charge sheet with multiple charges.

"It is said this is because we wanted to throw the book at him. It ignores the fact that, at the time of his arrest, he was regarded as a flight risk. There were media reports that he was intending on moving to Dubai. To be safe, he was arrested prior to the finalisation of the investigation to prevent him from taking flight, and ensuring his attendance at court."

She said "the truth" was that the defence never intended to be ready for trial - or to proceed with it at all.

The attack on the charge sheet, and on Volker, were totally unjustified, "just an attempt to exclude evidence".

"They know that if Volker testifies, in all likelihood their client will be convicted… if they can exclude (the report), they will have achieved their purpose," O'Brien said.

'We also gave him the benefit of the doubt'

O’Brien said, in response to a request for further particulars, Volker had gone back to the school to source more documents and had found the basis of other potential charges which were not being proceeded with.

"We also gave him (Kershaw) the benefit of the doubt and decided to withdraw about 30 counts.

"We ask the court to reject this objection and to order that the trial proceeds."

Scheltema will respond to O’Brien’s submissions on Friday and the magistrate will probably take some time to give her ruling.

Kershaw, 56, taught at the school for a number of years, was appointed principal in 2000 and retired in December 2015.

He was arrested in April 2016.

The charges he faces involve alleged reimbursements he made to himself in cash or through electronic transfers, using "homemade" invoices.

Read more on:    durban  |  crime

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