The Police Minister has to compensate a Pretoria man, who was unlawfully arrested and kept in custody for two days because of a “missing” statement in an old police docket.
Rian Botes, 52, a construction boss from Rietondale, was initially charged with culpable homicide after his truck overturned in Mpumalanga and one of his employees on the back was thrown out and killed. The charge was withdrawn after the conclusion of an inquest into his employee’s death.
Botes said he had helped his passengers at the scene and reported the accident to the Mbazwana police station on the same night.
He heard nothing about the case again, until he attempted to cross the border into Mozambique in April 2012, where a police inspector told him he had a warrant for Botes’ arrest for failure to report an accident. The inspector ignored his protest that he had the case number.
At the Mbazwane police station an officer expressed surprise that Botes had been arrested for failing to report the accident, as there was a file containing statements by Botes and his lawyer. He was detained nonetheless and his clothes and shoes stripped off him.
He was only brought to court two days later, where his attorney produced documents proving Botes had indeed reported the accident. The charge was immediately withdrawn and he was released.
The arresting officer said he had decided to obtain the warrant after the dead man’s relatives in 2012 complained that they were unable to claim from the Road Accident Fund because the driver had not reported the accident.
The officer insisted that the docket did not contain the driver’s statement, causing him to conclude that a crime had been committed. He felt a warrant was necessary because “police officers had neither the power nor the skill to trace someone”.
Acting Judge Mahlape Sello said no attempt was made to investigate Botes’ version, there were no facts to support a warrant for his arrest and the arresting officer’s conduct constituted the most egregious form of abuse of power by a police officer.
She ruled that Botes’ arrest and detention had been unlawful and that the police were liable for his damages.