Mozambican 'rhino poacher' disappears from police custody

2017-06-24 13:50
FILE: A rhino that has since been killed by poachers at Zululand Rhino Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal.

FILE: A rhino that has since been killed by poachers at Zululand Rhino Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal.

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East London - The chairperson of the Private Rhino Owners Association, Pelham Jones, has called for heads to roll and answers from government, after a seriously wounded prisoner, believed to be a Mozambican rhino poacher, disappeared from East London’s Frere Hospital without a trace in the early hours of Friday morning.

Management at the hospital refused to comment on the matter on Friday, and the media liaison officer for the Eastern Cape Department of Health Services, Sizwe Kupelo, referred News24 to the South African Police Services. 

"We are not running a prison, we are running a hospital," Kupelo said. 

According to a reliable source who spoke to News24, a police guard who was supposed to be guarding the prisoner, had gone missing and had not been seen for about five hours prior to authorities being notified of  the prisoner’s escape. 

The SAPS would not reveal if the officer had been located, or how they were notified of the prisoner’s escape. 

The escapee was described as a Mozambican rhino poacher who had been shot through the leg and in the arm during a shootout at the Great Fish River Nature Reserve last Thursday. 

'It baffles the brain'

According to a source close to the investigation, the wounded poacher’s condition was so serious, "he could not have escaped without help from both the inside and the outside". 

A .375 caliber rifle, fitted with a silencer, and 12 rounds of ammunition were recovered from the wounded suspect, while his accomplice managed to escape.  

The wounded suspect was moved to Frere Hospital in East London for emergency treatment. 

"It baffles the brain how armed police officers cannot manage to keep a seriously injured prisoner escaping from police custody. If they cannot be trusted to do just that and what they are paid to do in the name of public service, then how on earth can we rely on them to defend the public against other dangerous criminals?" Jones asked. 

"This makes a complete mockery of any reasonable law enforcement standards this country is supposed to uphold.  

"If one looks at this latest debacle in the context of recent blunders by the law enforcement and case management authorities, it makes one wonder at their policing capabilities and prosecutorial efficacy.

"To make matters worse, it is totally demoralising to those dedicated policemen and women, and anti-poaching unit members fighting the bloodiest poaching crisis this country has ever seen," Jones said. 

Police busy 'tracking the suspect'

SAPS spokesperson Captain Kaya Tonjeni told News24 that all hospitalised prisoners are normally kept under 24-hour watch by police officers working 12-hour shifts.

He could not confirm or comment on rumours that the prisoner had escaped in leg irons, and that his handcuffs were found attached to the hospital bed. 

"He could be on his way to Lourenco Marques [Maputo]," Tonjeni said. 

In a written response to the News24 inquiry, he wrote: "The East London SAPS confirmed a 35-year-old male suspect has escaped from lawful police custody at Frere Hospital in East London early today. He was arrested and charged for rhino poaching in Alice. 

"Circumstances around this escape form part of our investigation, and disciplinary steps will be taken if it is discovered that the member who was on guard during the escape has acted negligently. 

"Police are busy with efforts of tracking the suspect and re-arresting him. Members of the public are warned to alert the nearest police whenever they see the suspect in their vicinity."

Read more on:    mozambique  |  east london  |  conservation  |  rhino poaching

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