London - One-time murder suspect Shrien Dewani may finally be publicly cross-examined about his wife Anni’s killing after a British coroner this week revealed he was planning an inquest into her death.
A spokeswoman for North London Coroner’s Court said on Friday said it was a matter of “when” rather than “if” the hearing goes ahead. The hearing would come five years after an initial inquest was opened into her death and would have the power to compel Dewani to appear and answer questions if coroner Andrew Walker decided to.
The millionaire care home owner managed to avoid cross- examination during his December murder trial after Western Cape Deputy Judge President Jeanette Traverso dismissed the case, claiming evidence from key prosecution witnesses was “riddled with contradictions”.
But why, five years after the November 2010 murder, could former chief suspect Dewani be required to answer questions in a British courtroom and not a South African one?
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Justice said that under the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 affecting England and Wales, all unexplained or sudden deaths of Britons abroad must be investigated by a coroner. The body must first be returned as was Dewani’s after which it was cremated in north London and her ashes scattered in a lake in her native Sweden.
In cases like that of Anni Dewani, it is usual for coroners to wait until criminal proceedings finish before an inquest is held. Following the collapse of Dewani’s murder trial and the unlikely event of a retrial, the coast was clear for the British inquest to resume.
Anni’s family were bitterly upset by the collapse of the trial and in particular the failure of Dewani to give evidence. After the proceedings, her uncle Ashok Hindocha said: “We agree that Anni did not get a fair trial. The case was not fully heard, she (Judge Traverso) should have let Shrien take the stand.”
Now, in the UK that could happen but inquest expert Clare Campbell cautioned the family about expectations.
Campbell, travel litigation partner at law firm Leigh Day, said: “The coroner can compel Shrien Dewani to attend and answer questions and if he does not, he will be in contempt of court. I know her family were upset he did not give evidence in South Africa, but he could here. However, the coroner needs to speak to them and explain that an inquest isn’t to apportion blame like a criminal trial, it’s about finding out facts about the death and what happened.”
Like South African courts, the inquest will deliver a verdict which in Campbell’s opinion would probably be unlawful killing.
Anni’s body was found in the back of a taxi following an alleged hijacking on November 14, 2010.
Three men - Zola Tongo, Mziwamadoda Qwabe and Xolile Mngeni - were handed prison terms for their role in the killing which they claimed Shrien orchestrated.