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Pretoria - A Sinoville housewife who claimed R280 000 damages from the minister of police after she was detained on charges of defrauding Edgars at Kolonnade shopping centre, north of Pretoria, has lost her claim.
Ina van der Merwe told the court about her harrowing ordeal when she “exchanged some Christmas shopping”, which included perfume and “deep wrinkle filler”, only to be detained and held at the Kameeldrift police station for 27 hours.
She was stopped by security as she left the shop and accused of shoplifting.
She was taken to the Sinoville police station where she was charged with defrauding the store. Later the charges were withdrawn.
Constable Hendrick Mbola, who arrested her, testified that he was called to the store and told Van der Merwe had collected clothes, including pink Bermuda shorts, perfume (100ml Ms Sherry worth R1 290) cosmetics and a bra in Edgars.
She took these items to customer service where she told them she was returning the items. Her account was credited with the amount of R3 569.
The policeman said he found her at the centre’s security room and took her to Sinoville police station.
He said he arrested her because it was alleged that she went around Edgars removing clothing from hangers which she then took to customer services and insisted she wanted to return the items and that her account should be credited.
Van der Merwe was apparently apprehended after a control room operator noticed her actions and reported her. Mbola said he arrested her because he believed she had committed a crime.
But Van der Merwe told the court she had done Christmas shopping at Edgars in Centurion and in Potchefstroom but since some of the items did not fit, she decided to exchange them. She had planned to exchange perfume, but decided against it and so left it in her handbag.
Because of long queues at the pay point, she decided to select the other items she wanted and then proceed to pay.
She claimed that because some of the items had initially been bought on her husband’s credit card they did not reflect on hers.
She managed to have the items returned and her account was credited, but when she left the shop she was stopped and accused of theft. Van der Merwe said she initially had receipts for the items, but these were “taken away from her”.
She was taken to the police station in the back of a van and had to spend time in an office next to the charge office, where “she could be seen by everyone, including the public.”
She cried and was traumatised. She was taken to Kameeldrift police station where she was kept under harrowing conditions and made to use an open toilet in the presence of others.
According to evidence, she was so traumatised that she tried to hang herself in her cell.
She now suffers from post-traumatic stress and feels humiliated.
Van der Merwe admitted she had signed a document stating that the clothing and other goods could be returned to its owner (he store), but said she agreed to this because she thought she could then go home.
Judge Moses Mavundla said a reasonable person, in the face of the allegations made against Van der Merwe, would have been entitled to a reasonable suspicion that an offence had been committed, warranting an arrest. In his opinion she was not an impressive witness.
The judge said she should rather have brought the action against Edgars since it was its staff who called police to have her arrested. “I find the arrest to be justified.”