Oscar Pistorius got his first glimpse of his new life tonight as he left Pretoria magistrate’s court hiding under a jacket in the back of his uncle’s car.
As the vehicle weaved at speed through rush-hour traffic it was pursued by photographers mounted on motorcyles and a convertible with a cameraman leaning out of the back. The Paralympian’s involvement in the violent death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, has transformed him from hero to hunted in the space of a little more than one week.
The nature of that involvement in the killing is still at issue after magistrate Desmond Nair freed the world famous athlete on bail, while he awaits trial on the charge of premeditated murder. Pistorius, who is a double amputee, will return to the same court in early June for what is expected to be a lengthy trial, based on what was a marathon of a bail hearing stretching over four days.
The magistrate had one last surprise today as he quadrupled the amount the state had requested for bail from £18,500 to £74,000. Pistorius, a noted gun enthusiast, must turn in any firearms that he owns and surrender his two passports. He cannot leave the district of South Africa’s capital without the permission of his new probation officer.
Pistorius, who has emerged as a reckless dare-devil during the bail hearings, has also been barred from consuming any drugs or alcohol and must be available to verify his compliance through a new testing regimen. Ultimately, the dogged prosecutor Gerrie Nel’s efforts to have the 26-year-old kept in custody were ruined by the bungling of investigating officer Hilton Botha.
The detective, who was dramatically removed from what may be South Africa’s trial of the century when it emerged he was facing seven counts of attempted murder, made a string of errors which were exposed by the defence under cross-examination. In his summing up, the magistrate referred to Mr Botha’s “several errors” and his “astounding” inability to judge how far away witnesses were who claimed to have heard arguments, shots and screaming on the night Ms Steenkamp was killed.
Mr Nair offered some hope to the prosecution for the trial ahead when he said that: “Warrant officer Botha is not the state case, the state case is comprised of experts who will put together circumstantial evidence.”
The evidence is necessarily circumstantial, he pointed out, as only one of the two people in Mr Pistorius’s multimillion dollar home survived the early hours of 14 February and that person had opted not to answer the court’s questions, instead submitting an affidavit. A prosecutor’s aide sought to play down the setback saying “it was always going to go this way”.
Sitting only a few feet away from the accused as he was granted bail were two representatives of the dead woman’s family who came to “make sure Reeva was represented”.
“This is a bail application not a trial,” said Kim Myers, a close friend of the deceased 29 year-old model. “We hope and trust that justice will prevail.” As supporters of the multiple gold medallist celebrated inside and outside the court, she added: “It’s important to remember someone has lost their life.”
Minutes later outside Court C Arnold Pistorius, the accused’s gaunt and white-haired uncle, said: “We are happy and relieved that Oscar has been granted bail today but at the same time we are in mourning for the death of Reeva Steenkamp.”
“As the family,” he continued, “we know Oscar’s version of what happened that tragic night and we know that that is the truth and that will prevail in the coming court case.”
There was evidence of a sort that the influence of their PR man and former Sun editor Stuart Higgins was being felt. After a wary start in which the Pistorius family refused to speak to the media they have struck some balance between defending their most famous son while making the appropriate noises in the direction of a woman whom he was, according to his friends’ testimony, considering marrying.
Bail became inevitable after the magistrate was not convinced that one of the world’s most recognisable sportsmen, whose prosthetic legs require weekly maintenance, was a realistic flight threat. He accepted the state had proven the runner’s “tendency to aggression” but not a “propensity to violence”. Mr Nel’s assertion that Julian Assange’s famous face had not stopped him hiding out in a London embassy failed to sway the magistrate.
Outside the court building beyond the thicket of television cameras there were clear signs of the wedge that this case has driven between ordinary South Africans. A cluster of people had gathered under a banner photo of Mr Pistorius that read: “We trust in you and your love for Reeva.”
The trial has highlighted the problem of violence towards women in South Africa, where, according to police statistics, seven women were murdered every day in 2011. Milling around amid the microphones was a 28 year-old woman who works in construction: “I came here to support Oscar even though he screwed up big time,” she said. “Here in South Africa women are getting raped and killed everyday so I’m like what’s the big deal? Where I come from I’m used to it.”
Sharon Dego a 20 year-old student walking past could not contain her disgust: “I’m angry, if you open my heart right now you will find anger about what happened to Reeva,” she said. “If he loved her how could he kill her? He’s a monster.”
What next for Pistorius?
Oscar Pistorius left court under some of the strictest bail conditions issued in South Africa in recent memory.
The Paralympian’s lawyers had proposed a surety of 250,000 rand (£18,500). Instead, the court demanded one million rand and he was only allowed to leave after 100,000 rand had been handed over in cash.
Pistorius was ordered not to return home. He must remain in Pretoria, needing written permission to travel outside the city. Although unconfirmed, it is thought he will live in Waterkloof on the outskirts of Pretoria with his uncle, Arnold, who said yesterday that his nephew had begun eating again after apparently not taking food for six days. Last night he told local media that Pistorius was trying to unwind by having a bath – and wanted to speak to the family of his dead girlfriend.
Pistorius was also told to hand over both of his South African passports, give up his guns, avoid speaking to his neighbours or prosecution witnesses, and abstain from alcohol and drugs. Between now and his next court appearance, at 8.30am local time on 4 June, he must appear at Pretoria’s Brooklyn police station every Monday and Friday between 7am and 1pm, where the world’s media will be watching.
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