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.

Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
film
Sport
football
News
news
News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

Arts and Entertainment
A photograph taken by David Redferm of Sonny Rollins
people
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

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker