Hernus Kriel told a television news programme: 'If you arrest somebody it's very often a very traumatic experience for that person which leads to natural death, which sometimes leads to people committing suicide.
'But to say that the police are responsible for the people that die in detention is simply not true.'
The person Mr Kriel accused of lying was South Africa's top medical pathologist, Jonathan Gluckman. In an interview with the Johannesburg Sunday Times Dr Gluckman said he had more than 200 post-mortem files in his office, 90 per cent of which contained evidence of people killed by the police after arrest.
On Sunday Mr Kriel promised an official inquiry and said the police would draw up a full report on the allegations within 14 days.
By yesterday afternoon Dr Gluckman had not received a personal response from anyone in government, but he had received at least eight threatening phone calls.
He also provoked a denial from Johan Laubscher, the chief state pathologist. Professor Laubscher, who performed the post- mortem on Steve Biko in 1977, yesterday said he had never worked on a case in which the police were responsible for the death of a detainee. 'It happens in all legal systems that prisoners die in detention, but South Africa is specifically sensitive to the problem,' he said.
Last night, the African National Congress demanded an independent inquiry into Dr Gluckman's allegations.Reuse content