‘An absolute disgrace’ – Police top brass slammed for not warning public about Bester’s escape

Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola said Bester’s escape was a first of its kind and apologised to Bester’s victims and the public.

The police top brass came under fire by parliament’s portfolio committee on justice and correctional services on Thursday over withholding information from the public relating to the escape of rapist and murderer Thabo Bester.

Police Minister Bheki Cele, alongside National Police Commissioner Fannie Masemola, National Commissioner of the department of correctional services Makgothi Samuel Thobakgale and other senior officials, defended their decision not to inform or warn the public about the escape as investigations were underway.

‘An absolute disgrace’

DA MP Glynnis Breytenbach quizzed Cele about the secrecy, saying it was a disgrace, given Bester’s criminal history.

“It is an absolute disgrace that the victims of this man were not warned, prepared… It’s an absolute disgrace and you hang your heads in shame, it’s not the way to treat people,” she said.

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“If – while you were protecting the secrecy of your investigation and deciding not to warn the public who incidentally expect all of us to protect them and we have all failed – Bester had murdered and raped another woman, what would you have said then?”

Cele responded by saying he was not a speculator.

“That has not happened, and secondly, I know you are a prosecutor, a vintage one for that matter, but don’t tell me about investigating and the police, you only deal with that after they have investigated.”

Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola said Bester’s escape was a first of its kind and apologised to Bester’s victims and the public.

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“This dangerous criminal was let loose in the public by the G4S officials and as [the department], we take full responsibility for this, as we are the custodians of the Correctional Services Act,” he said.

G4S could have handled issue better

Meanwhile, retired Constitutional Court Justice Edwin Cameron – who heads Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services (Jics) – told MPs several stakeholders could have handled the matter hastily having received post-mortem results in August 2022 that the body found in the cell was not that of Bester.

Breytenbach raised concerns that had it not been for the public outcry after the discovery that Bester was alive, South Africa would have experienced the same situation as with the Gupta family, who are still at large.

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“It’s astonishing that everybody knew there was a murderer and a rapist on the loose but nobody with any sense of emergency wanted to rearrest him until now when it become a topic of public outrage and then all of a sudden everybody is in action,” she said.

Cameron said in probing the incident, G4S did not want to cooperate with Jics investigations, and suggested the company wanted to evade accountability.

“I think it was an evasion of responsibility, accountability,” he said.

“I think it was an implication, we warned in February that this would have an impact on G4S’s worldwide operations…

“I think there was defensiveness rooted in self-interest, rooted in a reluctance to take responsibility.”

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Cameron conceded that everyone should have been more alarmed in October last year when GroundUp first broke the story that Bester escaped prison and was alive.

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