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Dewani relapse could hold up trial

Shrien Dewani

Shrien Dewani

Published Oct 4, 2014


Cape Town - Fears honeymoon murder accused Shrien Dewani could relapse as a result of excessive media attention have been raised by the prosecution and the defence on the eve of his Western Cape High Court trial for the death of his wife Anni.

The concerns about the British businessman’s fragile mental health, and the delays it could cause during the trial, were expressed in a letter Western Cape Director of Public Prosecutions Rodney de Kock wrote to the presiding judge, Deputy Judge President Jeanette Traverso. De Kock was responding to the judge’s request for the defence and prosecution to discuss letters sent to her by media houses about the presence of cameras in court when the trial starts on Monday.

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“I have been apprised of the defence team’s fear that any unregulated media access to their client may impact negatively on his health and result in a relapse. I obviously share their concern since this will impact negatively on the trial and result in undue delays,” De Kock said in the letter.

In addition, he pointed out the prosecution had given an undertaking to Britain that Dewani would get a fair trial and steps would be taken to facilitate his recovery.

In August, after undergoing forensic observation at Valkenberg Psychiatric Hospital, a panel of experts concluded he was fit to stand trial. Although they pointed out Dewani was tearful and distressed, reported panic attacks and was startled by “sudden ambient noises”, they unanimously concluded there were no signs he suffered from clinical depression.

He was not on any medication, other than an occasional tranquilliser to help him sleep. The panel’s conclusion was a far cry from reports of Dewani’s mental state before he was extradited to South Africa in April. At that time, his sensitivity to noise was so severe that he was allowed to spend his days in a camper van.

Senior forensic psychiatrist Professor Sean Kaliski however recommended it was best Dewani remain at Valkenberg. In the letter the prosecution sent to Judge Traverso this week, De Kock said he had a duty to ensure Dewani remained fit to stand trial.

Should he relapse, and no longer understand the proceedings, in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act, the court would have to send him back to Valkenberg for observation. If a panel found he was not fit to be tried further, the court would have to decide what happened to him in terms of the Mental Health Care Act. However, the act states the prosecution can be reinstated if he recovers. The State and defence have agreed the media should be allowed limited access to Dewani on the first day of the proceedings for still photographs and video clips without sound.

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However, while neither objected to a request from Carte Blanche to have the closing arguments and judgment broadcast live, they both opposed the trial being electronically recorded or broadcast in its entirety.

The number of reporters covering the trial has been limited due to space constraints in the court.

Saturday Star

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