Ex-SA athlete appears in Stellenbosch court for assault after fleeing the country

Daniel Watkins is facing assault charges at the Stellenbosch Magistrate’s Court. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Daniel Watkins is facing assault charges at the Stellenbosch Magistrate’s Court. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Aug 26, 2022


Cape Town - Former rower for the South African team, Daniel Watkins, has appeared in the Stellenbosch Magistrate’s Court after pleading guilty to assault.

Watkins, 25, was charged with assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm for knocking out his ex-girlfriend on August 25, 2017 following a brawl.

On Thursday, Magistrate Eric Khaketla postponed the matter to the end of September for sentencing proceedings to commence.

Watkins’s lawyer, Bruce Hendricks, said: “The accused is just as much a victim as the complainant in this matter, he has his right to have his day in court. Clearly, it’s been delayed. There is no fault on our side, the fault clearly lies at the feet of the State.”

The victim ended up in hospital with a concussion after Watkins, “hit her with a closed fist against her head”, as alleged in the charge sheet.

At the outset, the parties tried to negotiate, but a proposal for Watkins to enter a guilty plea and apologise to the victim fell flat, which resulted in criminal proceedings going ahead.

Watkins then pleaded “not guilty” and the trial commenced in 2018 but almost five years later the victim’s family are slowly losing hope.

In 2018 the victim had been under gruelling cross-examination for 11 days over a two-month period, and was hospitalised due to illness caused by severe stress. Adamant about getting justice, however, she persisted with the matter and returned to court.

After numerous delays, Watkins was to bring a Section 174 application seeking to be discharged and acquitted, but due to issues with the court’s recording of transcripts, this did not materialise and Watkins took the stand to testify in his own defence.

Things took a turn in December 2019 when Watkins fled the country in the midst of proceedings. A warrant for his arrest was issued. In January 2022, he was arrested at OR Tambo International Airport and was brought before the Stellenbosch Magistrate’s Court for a warrant inquiry. In February 2022, after spending time in Pollsmoor, he was found guilty of contempt of court and amended his plea to guilty.

In his bail application he said: “When this matter started in October 2017, I had no idea it would take longer than two years to conclude. I was studying at the time and did not have any form of income or savings and was completely reliant on my parents for financial support for legal representation.”

He was later released on bail. The parties will return to court from September 26 to 30 to finally bring an end to the trauma and devastation caused by a justice system they believe has failed them.

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Cape Argus