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Pretoria - A Musina hunter who was technically a multimillionaire at this time last year when the North Gauteng High Court awarded him and his company R50 million in damages has been left with an empty pocket after the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein ruled he should never have been awarded the amount.
In February last year, the police were ordered by Judge Louis Visser to pay R75 000 to Jaco Scott for wrongful arrest and detention. But on appeal, five judges found that as Scott and his friend were the aggressors in the pub brawl that led to the damages claim, Scott should only receive R30 000.
But the biggest blow for Scott was that the Appeal Court said Judge Visser should never have awarded the R49.2m in damages to his company – Scottco Ltd.
Scott, owner of Mopane Ranch in Musina, in 2004 advertised his hunting services in a US magazine. An American saw it and concluded an agreement with Scott in terms of which they would bring hunting parties to South Africa.
In June 2004, a hunting party from the US went to Scott’s ranch to hunt elephants in Zimbabwe the next day. Scott’s driver fetched them at the airport and drove them to the ranch. Scott and two of his friends went to a pub in town while waiting for the Americans.
His driver phoned to say they were near the ranch and he left the pub. On his way out, he claimed, he saw a group of men swearing and shouting at him and his friends. When he tried to hear what they wanted, the other party assaulted him and his friends, he said.
The police arrived and arrested him for being drunk and in possession of a firearm. He spent the night in a police cell and was only released the next afternoon.
By then the hunting party, who had arrived to closed doors on the ranch, were fuming as it was too late to hunt. The American agent was so upset he cancelled all future contracts and said he did not want to be associated “with a criminal”.
According to a different version of events, Scott and his friends assaulted a father and son who went to the pub to play billiards.
Judge Ben du Plessis initially found Scott to be the instigator of the brawl, but ordered that the police were liable for damages on a technicality, as they had arrested him for “handling” his weapon, while it was in his holster.
Judge Visser, however, apart from awarding the other damages, also found the cancellation of the business deal was as a direct result of Scott’s unlawful arrest and said he should be compensated for the prospective loss of income over the next 25 years – calculated at R49.2m.
But Judge LV Theron, on appeal, said: “There was no evidence that the police knew, let alone foresaw, that Scott’s detention would have any impact on the elephant hunt, lead to the cancellation of the contract and cause the company financial loss.“