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The “Cato Manor 18” – the policemen accused of committing 14 “death squad killings” – have come out fighting in a high court challenge to the legality of a “general ransacking” of their homes on the day of their arrests when, they say, search teams disregarded the law and decency and went through underwear and seized their children’s possessions.
In papers filed in the Durban High Court the policemen, who face a total of 71 charges and who will appear in court again next Friday when they are expected to be served with final indictments, describe the search warrants as “breathtaking in their scope” and unconstitutional.
They want a judge to order that anything taken must be returned. They also deny any involvement in criminal activity and say their arrest warrants were also unlawful – an issue they may raise at trial.
Their attack is aimed at the minister of police, and specifically the actions of investigating officer Lieutenant-Colonel Frans Kola, and the magistrate who “rubber-stamped” the search warrants which entitled those searching to “roam at large” through their homes.
The practical consequences of this were dire, says Warrant Officer Paul Mostert in the main affidavit in the court application.
He says male searchers went through the underwear of the wife of one of the accused “a completely unnecessary and distasteful exercise”. They also seized a personal computer belonging to the young son of the same policeman.
“During the search of (Warrant Officer John Smith’s) home, male searchers again went through his and his wife’s clothing and personal documentation. They seized three cameras belonging to his wife. They then searched through his eight-year-old daughter’s clothing and plastic toy container and wanted to seize her Wii game console and games.
“It was only when Smith pleaded with them not to traumatise his daughter any further that they reluctantly relented.”
A computer belonging to Smith’s wife was seized.
Mostert said the search at Anton Lockem’s home was equally “indiscriminate”. The policeman’s 80-year-old mother, recovering from a broken vertebrae and femur, was highly traumatised when her personal belongings were searched.
At Mlabunzima Thabethe’s house, the search took place in front of his young son who had to be consoled when his father was arrested and handcuffed in his presence.
And those searching at Captain Neville Eva’s home asked his wife repeatedly “having fun yet?”.
Regarding the specifics of the search warrants, Mostert said they were not addressed to any named police officers, they were “unintelligible” and overbroad. They did not, for example, give those searching “the slightest bit of information” regarding the alleged offences and the policemen and their attorneys had to simply stand by while their homes were ransacked.
The state has a month to file opposing affidavits and the matter will be in court in October.