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Police officers who acted in a “robot-like fashion” by merely accepting a statement made by a member of the public in which he accused his former lover, her father and her son of assault (alternatively attempted murder), robbery and the theft of his vehicle, will cost the taxpayer dearly.
Roslind Fletcher-Morgan was detained for three days on the strength of these accusations, while her father, Chris Morgan, and her son, Gareth Schutte, were detained overnight. The charges against them were withdrawn after the court found that this was a family dispute and a civil matter.
The three are now suing the police for damages.
The charges were orchestrated by Gabor Victor Cost who, in a statement made to his lawyer, which was later handed over to the police, accused the three of a range of crimes. The police in turn took a look at the statement, saw that schedule one offences were claimed to have been committed and there and then decided to detain the three as the “red flags went up”.
Judge Selby Baqwa said they had allowed the mere claims of schedule one offences contained in a statement written by a civilian to dictate the course of action they had to take. “In other words, they did not apply their minds to the matter and totally and negligently failed to exercise discretion,” he said.
The events of January 4, 2008, which led to this claim, were preceded by yet another volatile breakup between Fletcher-Morgan and Cost. She asked her family as well as a friend, identified only as Hein, to help her remove her belongings from Cost’s home.
They loaded the goods into two vehicles brought by her father and son as well as in a third, a bakkie co-owned by her and Cost.
While loading the goods, an altercation broke out during which Hein slapped Cost, but he was restrained from further assaulting him by the others.
Two days later, the aggrieved Cost made a statement to his lawyer in which he set out at length the volatile relationship between him and Fletcher-Morgan. Apart from accusing them of robbing him and taking “his” car, he never alleged any further acts of violence committed by them. He only accused Hein of attempting to murder or alternatively assault him.
He handed the statement to the police, “to ensure the people he fingered were put behind bars,” the judge said.
The police in turn saw only the offences of robbery and attempted murder and immediately thought that, as it was a schedule one offence, “the culprits” had to be put behind bars.
The judge said that even in Cost’s version, none of the three plaintiffs had assaulted him. It was a fact that this had been done by Hein, who was never apprehended, nor was there any attempt to charge him.
There was also no evidence of a robbery whatsoever, the judge said, as Cost knew his former lover had the bakkie with her. She had even come back the following day to return some items which she had mistakenly taken and she drove the bakkie. “This is hardly the action of thieves and robbers.”
The judge added that the Douglasdale police had not applied their minds when they charged and detained the three.
He said that if the police acted in a “robot-like fashion” by merely accepting what they saw on a statement brought to them, it would mean that any person could bring a statement to the police claiming robbery or any other schedule one offence and the police would, purely on the strength of the statement, arrest and detain whoever was fingered.
The judge ordered the police to pay Fletcher-Morgan R200 000 in damages for the three days she was behind bars while her father and son were to receive R25 000 each.