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Cape Town - Bad cops are costing the Police Ministry millions of rand in damages claims and if two recent cases of domestic violence and rape are used as a precedent, this may open the floodgates for other victims.
On Friday a 29-year-old Cape Town woman was awarded nearly R2 million in damages after she was raped by an off-duty policeman who offered her a lift home from a nightclub 15 years ago.
The substantial award comprises R250 000 for general damages and R1.76m for loss of earnings.
The rape took place in October 1999.
And in the Eastern Cape, Ntombekosi Hlomza will soon approach the Constitutional Court to have a recent Supreme Court of Appeal decision overturned after she previously won R1.5m in damages in the Mthatha High Court.
Police spent more than R200m on civil claims during the 2012/2013 financial year, including on cases of police brutality.
Gareth Newham, head of the crime and justice programme at the Institute for Security Studies, said the huge increase in the number of civil claims against the police is a clear sign that there is a problem with accountability in the front line.
Hlomza’s policeman husband, Bongani, shot her in the jaw and neck before turning the gun on himself.
Police had been warned of his violence and threats to kill his wife but failed to take steps to seize his firearm.
Police conceded Hlomza’s suicide was caused by negligence for allowing him to be in possession of the gun after working hours, knowing he had previously threatened his wife with violence.
Now his widow, Ntombenkosi, almost 10 years later, will go to the Constitutional Court to ask that the police be held liable for Hlomza’s death, “any proven damages” she and her children have suffered and loss of support as a result, including a claim for funeral expenses.
The attempted murder-suicide took place at Central police station, Ford Gale, Mthatha on February 13, 2005 where Hlomza, 43, was a warrant officer.
The police argued that while they were aware of Hlomza’s violent action towards his wife, they were not aware he was suicidal.
The SCA found the high court granted dependants’ claims for loss of support brought by Ntombenkosi without any support of evidence but instead relied on admissions made by the police that Hlomza’s death was caused by their negligence.
“All the assumptions made – for example, that suicide, in the context of a troubled domestic relationship is foreseeable – were pure conjecture,” the SCA said. “The onus was on Mrs Hlomza to prove the facts giving rise to the Aquilian action (circumstances in which one person can claim compensation for harm that has been suffered)… she did not even make out a prima facie case.”
But Ntombenkosi’s attorney, Vuyani Msindo, said the SCA had ruled in favour of the police on “a legal technicality”.
“The trial court has already ruled in our favour in the damages claim for the wife which the State has not appealed.
“The SCA is of the view that the ministry can be held liable but we did not lead evidence to prove that the police were aware of the suicidal tendencies of the deceased. The SCA said it may be that the State is liable.”
Msindo said when police agreed that they were negligent, there was no basis to say they could not be held liable for loss of support to the children of the deceased.
Newham, meanwhile, said that since a 2011 case in which a girl was raped by a plainclothes police detective on standby duty extended police liability, there had been an increase in the number of civil claims against police.
In the Western Cape High Court yesterday, Judge Shanaaz Meer ordered the Ministry of Police to pay the rape victim R300 000 for contumelia and R200 000 for pain and suffering.
Since the minister has already paid the plaintiff R250 000 as a contribution towards her damages, he was ordered to pay a further R250 000 in general damages.
He was also ordered to pay R1.76m for loss of earnings, the cost of future therapy and medication, and legal costs.