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Vergeer relied on Popcru speech about horrific prison conditions

The social worker who testified in Oscar Pistorius's sentencing proceedings relied on a nine-year-old speech by a union official to back her claims of horrific prison conditions, a court heard on Wednesday.

The speech was made by the then general secretary of the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union, Abbey Witbooi, at a conference in February 2005, prosecutor Gerrie Nel told Annette Vergeer.

He was cross-examining her during sentencing proceedings in the High Court in Pretoria, for Pistorius, found guilty of the culpable homicide of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

On Tuesday Vergeer presented her report on Pistorius, which the defence had paid her to compile, to the court. In it she recommended that the paralympic athlete get three years of correctional supervision and community service for killing Steenkamp.

She cited prison overcrowding, understaffing, and a lack of facilities for the disabled as the reasons for her recommendation.

Nel asked Vergeer what Witbooi’s main concern at that conference was.

“The unwillingness or inability of the department to appoint entry-level staff, as a union official would do,” he said, answering his own question.

Nel asked her if she had sent a written request to correctional services for information on prison conditions.

“I didn’t get a response to my written request. I was told they didn’t want to be exposed,” Vergeer replied.

She said she interviewed an official over the phone.

On September 12 Judge Thokozile Masipa found Pistorius guilty of the culpable homicide of his girlfriend, model and law graduate Steenkamp, but not guilty of her murder. Pistorius had claimed he thought there was a burglar in his toilet when he fired four shots through the locked door in the early hours of February 14 last year, killing Steenkamp. The State had argued he killed her during an argument.

Masipa found Pistorius guilty of discharging a firearm in public, when he shot from his friend Darren Fresco’s Glock pistol under a table at Tasha’s restaurant in Melrose Arch, Johannesburg, in January 2013.

Pistorius was found not guilty on two firearms-related charges – illegal possession of ammunition, and shooting through the open sunroof of a car with his 9mm pistol while driving with friends in Modderfontein on September 30, 2012.


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