DURBAN22062012 Cato Manor organised crime unit members appeared in Magistrate Court for allegation of killing innocent people. Picture: SANDILE NDLOVU

Durban - Provincial hawks head Johan Booysen and members of the disbanded Cato Manor Organised Crime Unit were all suspended from duty on Tuesday in a move which legal sources say will force the State to show its hand ahead of the criminal trial in which they are facing charges of murder and racketeering relating to alleged “death squad” activities.

Seven months after they were first informed that they could face internal disciplinary hearings, the career policemen were packing up their personal belongings and handing back state cars and cellphones on Tuesday.

None wished to be named but they would not go to court to fight their suspensions, even though they believed them to be unlawful.

They also said that they would co-operate in handing over any outstanding investigations to others to complete and said they would see through any court cases pending before the magistrates and high courts.

Booysen told The Mercury that the suspensions, on full pay, were actually a blessing.

The men have all strongly denied the allegations against them and Booysen has previously told the media that the arrests were part of a political and criminal campaign against them.

Now, under police regulations, police management has to institute disciplinary hearings within 60 days.

“We are looking forward to the disciplinary hearings during which the state witnesses will finally be made known and all issues will be ventilated so that the truth can be exposed,” said Booysen. “We will ask for an independent arbitrator and we will welcome the hearings taking place.”

The 30 men, including two from Port Shepstone Organised Crime Unit and three National Intervention Unit members, were served with the letters of intended suspension earlier this month.

They were given until last Friday to give reasons why they should not be suspended. The Mercury understands that these reasons – including the fact that Booysen has previously obtained two Labour Court interdicts to stop his suspension – were submitted just before 4pm last Friday.

Their attorney, Carl van der Merwe, received the final letters of suspension on Tuesday afternoon. They stated that the suspensions were “precautionary” to allow the further internal investigation of the claims against the policemen and to prevent interference with witnesses. Police regulations state that the disciplinary hearings have to take place within 60 calendar days, even if there are criminal charges pending because the internal issue must continue independently of any criminal trial.

Van der Merwe could not be reached for comment on Tuesday, but a legal source, who did not wish to be named, said he was surprised that police management had done this because it gave the policemen the opportunity to test the State’s case ahead of trial. And if the disciplinary hearings collapsed, then it could compromise some of the 105 charges, if not the entire trial.

It also meant that state witnesses would have to testify twice.

The men will all appear in court again in October. A date for the trial, which is expected to run for about six months in the high court, has not yet been set. - The Mercury