Pretoria - Controversial former Ekurhuleni metro police chief Robert McBride will soon know whether he will have to start serving his five-year prison sentence for drunken driving and defeating the ends of justice or whether he will be getting off the hook.
He appealed on Thursday against his convictions and sentence. Pretoria High Court judges Cynthia Pretorius and Lettie Molopa reserved judgment, but promised to deliver it soon.
Both judges had various pertinent questions for McBride’s counsel, as well the State, about the incident on the night of December 21, 2007, when McBride crashed his official vehicle on the R511 after a departmental Christmas party.
The judges questioned actions by McBride directly after the accident, such as why he did not wait for an ambulance to fetch him, but after making one phone call, left the scene.
The court also questioned the fact that McBride refused to go to the Little Company of Mary Hospital after the accident, which was on the doorstep of his Waterkloof home, but rather chose to go to a doctor in Ga-Rankuwa, which was far from where he lived.
But the State also faced tough questions, such as whether it was enough to convict him of drunken driving merely because some witnesses said he smelt of alcohol and acted as if he was inebriated.
“If we leave this out, what do we have?” Judge Molopa asked, while Judge Pretorius said the long and the short of it was whether the State had proved its case against McBride beyond reasonable doubt.
McBride was convicted and sentenced in the Pretoria Regional Court, and the magistrate said at the time that “his intoxicated state led to the erratic way in which he drove his vehicle, which in turn led to the accident he was involved in”.
The magistrate based his finding on, among others, the evidence of three accomplice witnesses - colleagues of McBride’s, who at first made a statement to say he was sober that night, but a few months later made an about-turn and said they had lied.
They then told the court that McBride (their boss at the time) was, in fact, very drunk that night, but that they lied about this as he had intimidated and threatened them.
These statements formed a big part of McBride’s appeal bid, with his advocate, Guido Penzhorn SC, telling the court that these statements should not have been accepted by the court.
He said it was extremely suspicious that all three “suddenly headed for the road to Damascus on the same day” and they all suddenly, on the same day, no longer feared McBride.
He said their change of heart was also questionable as they were, at the time, suspects in an attempted murder case and had been interviewed by the Organised Crime Unit. Penzhorn said the trio were offered indemnity against prosecution on this, in return for incriminating McBride in his drunken driving case, and that this was the reason why they “lied”.
In his opening speech to the court, he said the McBride drunken driving case “has a curious history”. Penzhorn said this included that McBride’s blood was not analysed, the change of heart by his three colleagues and that some witnesses on the scene said he was drunk, while others said he was not.
Prosecutor Petronell du Plessis was asked by Judge Pretorius why McBride was charged only a year after the incident. Du Plessis said as he was a high ranking official, the director of public prosecutions had to make the decision on whether to prosecute or not and this sometimes took some time.