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“We wanted to take them alive and get them in front of a court, but it didn’t work out that way.”
As the clamour mounted yesterday over whether police should have given armed fugitives Philippe Meniere, 60, and Agnes Jardel, 55, the opportunity to surrender on the dusty Karoo farm, Northern Cape police spokesman Colonel Hendrik Swart said officers had had no option this week but to act the way they did.
“We knew the fugitives were seriously armed,” said Swart, “we knew they were dangerous and had already shot and killed and could shoot and kill again.
“Our intention had always been to arrest them, but we didn’t get the opportunity.”
The police have launched a thorough investigation, using ballistics coupled with statements from the police Tactical Intervention house penetration team in order, Swart said, to recreate the last minutes of Meniere and Jardel’s lives.
This probe should answer the question of whether the couple opened fire on the police or whether they were executed.
At the same time, the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) has dispatched a team to Sutherland to run its own investigation in parallel with the police.
As the couple’s bodies were moved from Calvinia to Kimberley for a thorough post mortem, the family which owned the farm on which the couple had been living, and who sparked the six-day drama by trying to evict them last Friday, was in shock.
Jolene du Plessis, the daughter-in-law of Hardie farm owner Gerhardus du Plessis, said the family was relieved the ordeal, that has gripped the country, was over, but sad that three people had died.
“We thank the police officers for their dedication and everyone who has supported us during this time,” she said.
The drama began last Friday when the police arrived to evict the couple. As they helped the police to load their firearms into a police vehicle, Meniere opened fire, wounding warrant officer Glenwall du Toit and killing student constable Jacob Boleme.
The two, members of a doomsday cult, fled into the arid Karoo bush as an unprecedented manhunt was launched to bring them to book.
Six days later they died, 500m from the house they’d lived in for 12 years.
Two police helicopters, one from Kimberley and the other from Cape Town, had been doing aerial surveillance continually during the week. On Wednesday night, one chopper, fitted with infrared cameras, had detected movement in a particular area.
On Thursday morning, a team was dispatched on foot to the area, which included a farm house that was only occupied on weekends.
As the team made its way overland, a farmer’s wife went to the farmhouse to check up on something.
“When she went in, she sensed something was wrong, then she looked up and saw the couple we had been hunting,” Swart said.
“She turned and fled down the dirt track towards the main road. It was a miracle that she ran straight into the arms of the approaching police.”
The police team reacted quickly and with “the necessary force”.
Police clad in camouflage from the National Intervention Unit, with scarves draped over their faces against the oppressive heat, made up the penetration team, as members of the Public Order Policing Unit in standard police uniform formed a second rank behind them.
Reporters on the scene reported hearing a shrill female scream, then two concussion grenades exploding followed by a barrage of small arms fire.
Within minutes it was over.
The police officers emerged jubilant, greeting each other with high fives, while inside lay the bodies of the French couple. From the way they lay, police believe they might have been booby trapped.
The farmhouse was cleared pending the arrival of two police bomb disposal experts from Springbok, who ascertained there was no further danger. The bodies were then removed to Calvinia, en route to Kimberley for a postmortem by the state pathologist.
Forensic experts from the Western Cape drove up to investigate the scene.
Six firearms were found next to the couple, two 9m pistols, a .357 magnum revolver, a .223 hunting rifle, a .22 rifle and another unidentified rifle.
There was also a considerable amount of ammunition, Swart said.
Yesterday, the officers involved met at their tactical base in Sutherland for a last debrief.
“We discussed the positives and negatives of the last six days,” Swart said.
“There were a couple of teething problems such as logistics, but overall it was an incredible success. The guys worked incredibly hard, combing 3 000 hectares of hard terrain in extreme heat over the past six days, but most of all it was a triumph of how we were all able to work together seamlessly, even though we were all working together for the first time.”
The police assembled an 85-strong team made up of 22 members of the national SAP Tactical Intervention team based in Cape Town, with their own trackers, members of the Northern Cape public order policing unit, the dog unit, Hawks detectives, the air wing, the Northern Cape’s crime intelligence unit and civilian search and rescue specialists.
Colonel Tip Brink, commander of the Northern Cape public order policing unit, was in charge on the ground with Calvinia cluster commander Colonel Amos Motaung, while provincial Hawks head General Liziwe Ntshinga was on the scene for the final stages of the fugitive drama, along with the Western Cape Tactical Intervention Unit commander Colonel Norman Modishana.
“It was the first time we’d ever worked together and it proved that the police, even though we are based in nine provinces, can work as one when required because our training is uniform and of a very high standard,” Swart said. “Another great plus for us was the kind of information we got from the local population and the levels of co-operation; it was heartwarming for us as police officers.”
Yesterday, after the team was debriefed, the Cape Town contingent returned home, but for the Northern Cape police it was business as usual. - Saturday Star