Fred Mason on oxygen at home. He and his wife, Lindsay, spent six hours in the Pinetown police cells after a labour dispute they believed had been put to rest. Picture: Duncan Guy

KwaZulu-Natal -

An elderly Hillcrest couple spent six hours in the cells at Pinetown police station on Friday, the result of a labour dispute which they believed had been resolved.

Now, Fred Mason, who suffers from a terminal lung disease and needed an oxygen machine brought to him, will be instituting a civil lawsuit against the police top brass who ordered that he and his wife, Lindsay, 64, be arrested.

“My age is irrelevant,” said Mason, 74. “It was the incompetence and high -handed dictatorial attitude.”

The couple’s lawyer, Jacques Botha, told The Independent on Saturday their day’s horror ended when a prosecutor, for a second time, refused to place charges against them on the roll.

But as they sat in the cells, earlier in the day, a police colonel escalated initial charges of theft and assault against them to one of robbery. They said it had its origins in an incident at their lubricant supply business in Pinetown in March when they took back company property - a cellphone and a tablet - from an employee who had been suspended.

They said they understood that their deal with the now former employee and the CCMA involved his withdrawing the charges against them.

Police on Friday confirmed the couple’s arrest but said it related to car keys. Later in the day, they were unable to comment on the robbery charge.

Mason said they had demanded company car keys from the former employee but, upon realising that they had taken the wrong keys, returned them to his home.

Their lawyer said the Natal High Court had clearly stated that people should be brought to court only when necessary and by the least invasive means possible, not to infringe on their rights and their privacy.

During the first hours of their arrest, the Masons shared a courtyard in the police cells with two young men who had been arrested for holding up a woman at gunpoint.

Later, they were locked up in separate cells but in shouting distance of one another.

“Our final guests were two who came in arrested for hijacking,” said Fred.

“But there was also a human side,” added the former career policeman with the British South Africa Police in the then-Rhodesia. The policeman who arrested us was very professional, the epitome of a gentleman.”

Another detainee, he said, shouted to him: “Old man, don’t worry. Be at peace.”

- Independent on Saturday