Gaps appearing in Oscar case

2014-03-14 19:10
(Alet Pretorius, AFP)

(Alet Pretorius, AFP)

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Pretoria - Is it good that as far as police work is concerned, the left hand can have no idea what the right is doing?

It is obviously desirable that there is specialisation and fragmentation of work to ensure that the very best skills can be applied where they are most needed.

We wouldn’t want forensic analysts being called out to intercept desperados (don’t believe what television shows like CSI tell you in this regard) where tactical response teams would do.

But this kind of fragmentation inevitably opens up gaps in the work.

And this is where the failure in police work when the murder of Reeva Steenkamp was investigated appeared to have happened.

Testifying earlier in the week, materials analyst Colonel Johannes Vermeulen had to explain how a boot print appeared and then disappeared on the door that the shooting happened through.

From the timeline of events, this mistake happened when the exhibit was in police custody.

He couldn’t say how that happened. The door wasn’t in his charge.

From a public relations perspective, the testimony of the retired Colonel Gilliam Schoombie van Rensburg was far more damaging – he revealed that at least one forensic investigator was seen handling one of Oscar Pistorius’s guns found on the scene with his bare hands.

Also, one of the athlete’s prized watches may have vanished during the course of the investigation.

Van Rensburg was the station commander at Boschkop, which covers the Silver Woods Estate where Pistorius’s house is located, and he was the one who responded to the call on the morning of Valentine’s Day when Steenkamp died.

He has already testified about what he saw when he arrives, which matches what other witnesses have said already.

Pistorius shot his girlfriend in an upstairs toilet, bashed the door down and carried her downstairs, which is where the people who arrived at the house found them.

Mistakes made

But then, in the course of the investigation, as the forensics team was combing over the scene, mistakes were made.

Two watches (some of them in his collection are worth up to R50 000) went missing.

According to Van Rensburg, Pistorius’s sister took one. The other vanished.

This is in spite of the fact that the police coming in and out of the house would have needed to be searched.

The colonel couldn’t say how that happened, only that he was very angry about it.

He also came across the forensics person fiddling with Pistorius’s gun with his bare hands (now there’s something you definitely don’t see on CSI) and chided him for it.

“Sorry,” was the reply. (An aside: In light of the gun that went off inside Tasha’s because the athlete mishandled it, well, one begins to think that perhaps nobody in this case really knows how to handle a gun.)

Sloppy police work

The truly troubling thing about these revelations is that sloppy police work is not a once-off thing.

It is a systemic problem that the Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa fought hard to hide in the case of the Khayelitsha Commission that is investigating such occurrences in that beleaguered neighbourhood.

It has come forth in a dramatic and disturbing way at the Marikana Commission.

It is not hard to imagine that if it happens in a high profile case where the defendant can afford an eye-wateringly expensive team of lawyers, that it happens in regular cases involving poor people. Roux has also accused Van Rensburg of offering a wide-ranging testimony in order to cover some of the ground that might have required the former police officer Hilton Botha to testify in the murder case.

You will recall that he was ripped to shreds during the bail application hearing due to his less than satisfactory work when he investigated the Pistorius home.

But this is indeed not just any case. It is a murder case, where the defence will have to work much harder than usual to have certain evidence discounted because of shoddy police work.

We await Judge Thokozile Masipa’s verdict.

Read more on:    reeva steenkamp  |  oscar pistorius  |  barry roux  |  crime  |  pistorius trial

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