Shrien Dewani, looking dazed and somewhat confused, shuffled into courtroom three of the Belmarsh Magistrates Court this week and was directed to the accused dock by his psychiatrist, Dr Paul Cantrell.
Within 10 minutes, he was walking out of the arched-roofed courtroom assisted by two staff of the Fromeside Mental Clinic where is he being kept under Britain’s Mental Health Act.
District Court Chief Magistrate Howard Riddle allowed Dewani to leave after his lawyer, Clare Montgomery, successfully argued he was “mentally frail”, had arrived at court against the advice of his doctors and probably could not follow proceedings.
This set the tone for the rest of the four days as Dewani’s fitness to plea, his mental state and whether he was faking it, dominated the hearing.
Dewani is accused of plotting the murder of his bride Anni Hindocha who was shot dead in Gugulethu, Cape Town on November 13 last year.
South African authorities want Dewani to be extradited to Cape Town to stand trial alongside the two alleged hit men, Mziwamadoda Qwabe and Xolile Mngeni, who are in police custody.
The Belmarsh Magistrates Court in south-east London is attached to the infamous Belmarsh prison. The court building has been renovated and has an arched roof with glass ceilings that allow in the natural light.
In courtroom three this week, Dewani’s family took up seats in the public gallery above the courtroom while Anni’s family - all 10 of them - filled the seats usually reserved for jurors.
Since being named as a suspect in his wife’s murder, Dewani has been diagnosed with severe depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the court was told.
Cantrell said extraditing Dewani to South Africa would affect his mental health to such an extent that he would deteriorate and become suicidal.
In addition, Cantrell said Dewani had developed a condition known as psychomotor retardation, which slowed down his every movement “as if he is thinking or moving in mud”.
Cantrell explained that this was the reason for Dewani’s laboured movements in court earlier in the day.
Hugo Keith QC, representing the South African government, however, noted that staff at Fromeside Clinic had observed Dewani exercising for “hours on end” and pointed out the anomaly to the court.
Keith said the exercise, which lasted up to two hours and included sit-ups, press-ups, skipping and weight training, extended to home visits where he used his family’s gym.
Cantrell said this was “consistent with his mental state”.
Keith suggested Dewani’s exercise regimen was contributing to his blood enzymes, creatine kinase (CK), rising.
The CK level was preventing doctors prescribing anti-depressants because they might cause psychosis.
Keith said the raised CK level made it impossible to assess when he will be deemed fit for extradition.
Cantrell said he did not believe Dewani was faking elevated CK levels.
Keith asked Cantrell whether Dewani’s habit of spending his days in a darkened room rather than going outside was a ploy to suppress his Vitamin D levels which made him look pale.
Cantrell said Dewani did not want to go out in the garden as another patient had been abusing him. He said Dewani believed someone was talking to him from outside his door but when he went to look no one would be there.
Professor Michael Kopelman, a neuropsychiatrist testifying on behalf of the South African government, agreed with Cantrell and another expert, Professor Nigel Eastman, that Dewani was mentally unfit to stand trial.
Kopelman said the fact that Dewani wanted to stay in a darkened room was “part of his clinical condition rather than design”.
Asked if there was any deliberation by Dewani to fake his mental illness, Kopelman said: “I can’t exclude the possibility that there may be some evidence of conscious manipulation.”
Dewani is fighting his extradition based on the argument that South African prisons are dangerous and he risks being raped; that he is not mentally fit to plead to any charges in the country, and that extraditing him would violate his human rights.
His lawyer Clare Montgomery QC entered into evidence reports including a UNAids report on South Africa’s prisons and the findings of the 2005 Jali Commission highlighting conditions in South African jails.
She said extraditing Dewani to South Africa would be “inhumane”.
The South African government has undertaken that if Dewani is extradited he will be confined to a single cell with a flushing toilet, hot and cold water in a top prison.
Sitting outside court this week, Anni’s uncle, Ashrok Hindoch said: “They are talking about gangs, drugs and rape in prison. This happens in every prison in the world, even in Sweden. This case should be based on facts. We are not accusing anyone of anything. If Shrien is innocent he must go to South Africa and point out the bastards who killed Anni.”
Judgment is expected to be handed down on August 10. - Saturday Star