The police minister has agreed to pay R45 000 damages to a Pretoria North scrap-metal dealer for the 21 hours she spent in a police cell after she was falsely accused of stealing copper cables.
Scrap-metal dealer Zhené Smith said she was arrested without a warrant at her dealership in 2014.
She was searching for documents to prove she had legally bought the copper when the police told her they were too busy to wait and took her to Hercules police station.
She was transferred to Pretoria central police station where she spent the night in the cells, but was released at court the next morning after spending some hours cuffed to a bench.
Smith, who was arrested in front of customers, employees and her young son, initially claimed R500 000 damages for humiliation, damage to her reputation and loss of liberty and income.
She said she never wanted to experience a nightmare like that again and that her son still did not trust the police.
In her 10 years as a scrap dealer she had always worked closely with the police, who had arrested people at her business before.
She kept a register with the identity numbers and contact details of all customers, which she could have shown to the police.
Smith said if enough people took the police to court, they would perhaps train their members properly. Her attorney Henriko Prinsloo said it was a sad reality that many scrap-metal dealers were arrested for the wrong reasons.
“The various bodies enforcing the legislation regulating the buying and selling of second-hand scrap mental are most of the time misinformed. The legislation, although well written, is sometimes misinterpreted by the arresting officer.
“A simple solution would be that a designated second-hand goods officer, who is usually properly informed, must accompany the investigating officers,” he said.
Prinsloo said all dealers should be presumed innocent until proven guilty, which would save the taxpayer the money wasted on unnecessary legal costs and damages payments for these unlawful arrests. – firstname.lastname@example.org