Pistorius prosecution in disarray as lead detective is taken off case for attempted murder charges

Revival of charges against  Hilton Botha forces police to draft in replacement

Pretoria

The extraordinary saga of Oscar Pistorius’s bail hearing took another unexpected turn today when lead investigator Hilton Botha was removed from the case after attempted murder charges against him were reinstated.

While defence and prosecution lawyers argued over whether Mr Pistorius should be granted bail, the South African Police Service called a press conference on the other side of Pretoria to announce that the veteran detective had been taken off the biggest case of his career.

Mr Botha had endured a withering cross-examination from Mr Pistorius’s defence counsel Barry Roux on Wednesday, in which he was forced to backtrack on several key points in the prosecution’s case. It then emerged overnight that a dormant charge of seven counts of attempted murder had been revived. The charge, relating to an incident in which he was accused of opening fire on a minibus full of passengers in 2011 while pursuing suspects in a murder case, had been dropped.

A spokesperson for South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority – the equivalent of Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service, whose director has the added power of being able to cancel criminal proceedings – insisted that the charge had been reinstated on 4 February, 10 days before Reeva Steenkamp was killed. However, the Pistorius prosecution team were not informed of the complications with their investigating officer before they emerged this morning. There were also indications of a whispering campaign as media outlets in South Africa and the UK were tipped off about the issues surrounding him overnight, before news of the revived charges broke.

The suspended officer will be replaced by a man described as the country’s top detective, Lt Gen Vinesh Moonoo, and a team of “highly-skilled and experienced” officers, a police spokesman said. The case against Mr Botha, who has 24 years’ experience, also alleges that he and two other officers were drunk when the minibus was shot at – a claim Mr Botha denies. South Africa has one of the highest rates of gun-related homicide in the world and veteran court observers said it was not unusual for investigating officers to be facing some sort of internal inquiry.

Mr Pistorius’s mini-trial began its fourth day in disarray with the policeman’s chair in the prosecution team noticably empty. The magistrate, Desmond Nair – who must decide whether to release Mr Pistorius on bail – immediately called for Mr Botha to return to the court. Chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel answered that Mr Botha was in the court building but “wished not to be here”. Earlier Mr Botha had told local radio stations that he was being victimised “because of Oscar”, claiming the charge had resurfaced because of his part in the downfall of the  wealthy national hero.

The harried-looking policeman was eventually put back on the stand, where his poor performance the day before had undermined the state’s claims that Mr Pistorius deliberately murdered his girlfriend. His return capped a damaging 24 hours for the prosecution team, which has appeared poorly prepared. Every aspect of Mr Botha’s handling of the case, down to his mastery of English, has been questioned.

Barry Roux has sought to portray Det Botha as someone determined to build a murder case against his client regardless of the facts. “He [Mr Botha] should have said ‘I’m the wrong guy, don’t ask me,’” Mr Roux said. “But he didn’t. He gave theories. And it won’t fly.”

Mr Roux told the court that the state had failed to provide evidence of murder, let alone premeditated or planned murder: “The poor quality of evidence presented by the chief investigating officer exposed disastrous shortcomings in the state’s case,” he said.

Another attempt to determine whether Mr Pistorius might flee should he be granted bail ended in farcical scenes as the prosecutor read aloud from an interview in an Afrikaans women’s magazine in which Mr Pistorius mentioned a house in Italy. The defence has insisted that their client owns no such house and said his status as an international athletics star makes it highly improbable that he would leave South Africa.

Mr Nel tried to turn the focus back on to the seriousness of the charges. “There were two people in the house,” he said. “One survived to give his version.”

He pointed out that the defence had given no explanation as to why two iPhones and the weapon used to kill 29-year-old Ms Steenkamp were found inside the bathroom. In his affidavit, Mr Pistorius claimed he had fired from the doorway of the bathroom and only entered it in an effort to free his dying girlfriend from the toilet cubicle where she had been shot. “The gun and the cell phones are the ‘coup de grace’ for the defendant’s version of what happened,” he said. The magistrate is expected to deliver his ruling on the bail application either today or on Monday after closing arguments have been concluded.

 

Mean streets: Crime in South Africa

South Africa has one of the highest rates of gun-related homicide in the world. Close to 16,000 people suffered violent deaths in the year to January 2012. In the face of this, South Africa’s police service has proven itself to be bungling and almost as violent as the criminals it is meant to counter.

Since 2006, the number of killings by police has doubled from about 250 per year to more than 500.

South Africa’s police minister Nathi Mthethwa famously responded to criticism at the deadly tactics, saying: “There is a war out there, which by the way has been declared by criminals on society and police.”

Part of the reason that the case involving detective Hilton Botha was not known to the prosecutors in the case against Oscar Pistorius was that such charges are so common that they are not considered newsworthy. A large number of police officers face complaints or investigations relating to police killings. The flip-side is that, on average, more than 100 police officers are killed in the line of  duty every year.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
people
Life and Style
President Obama, one of the more enthusiastic users of the fist bump
science
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode
tv
Life and Style
Upright, everything’s all right (to a point): remaining on one’s feet has its health benefits – though in moderation
HealthIf sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
News
Kristen Stewart and Rupert Sanders were pictured embracing in 2012
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

HSE Manger - Solar

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: HSE Mana...

Data Governance Manager (Solvency II) – Contract – Up to £450 daily rate, 6 month (may go Permanent)

£350 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently looking...

Powertrain Design Engineer

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: I hope you are well. My client based in ...

Java Developer - Banking - London - Up to £560/day

£500 - £560 per day: Orgtel: Java Developer FX - Banking - London - Up to £560...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried