Cape Town - Accusations that Anni Dewani’s body was manhandled, a bizarre pizza party memorial and tantrums around her coffin are just some of the strange events that drove a wedge between Anni’s family, the Hindochas, and the Dewanis.
Members of the families studiously avoid and ignore one another in the Western Cape High Court where Shrien Dewani stands accused of murdering his bride, Anni.
The events are documented in a statement Anni’s father, Vinod Hindocha, gave to police in December 2010.
The statement formed part of the case against convicted gunman Xolile Mngeni who was serving a life sentence for his role in the murder plot.
Vinod’s sworn testimony followed the Hindochas’ growing suspicions of Dewani’s account of the hijacking in which Anni was killed on November 13, 2010.
In his statement, Vinod told police he had got wind of a pizza party Shrien was hosting for about 500 people on November 19: “l was offended by this as it is customary that no parties are held during the period of mourning, yet Dewani did this, stating that Anni loved pizza and chips and the pizza party was a memorial service for her. All the elder people – not just we relatives – were disappointed and questioned that such a party had been planned.”
It was the last intrusion the Hindochas needed on the day they decided Anni’s sister Ami and cousin Sneha would dress her body for her funeral.
To Vinod’s astonishment Dewani insisted on accompanying Ami and Sneha to the London funeral parlour. “I only found out about this later. It serves to mention that this is out of the ordinary in the Hindu custom as only females are tasked with this when a female dies.”
What shocked Vinod even more was the allegation by his daughter that Dewani had manhandled Anni’s body.
“After their return from the funeral parlour both Ami and Sneha came to report to me that some strange thing had happened at the parlour. Ami stated that Dewani had attempted to place some gold bangles on to Anni’s wrist and when he experienced trouble doing this, tried to force them on and asked for some soap, hoping this would solve the problem. Ami stopped him as she was of the opinion he was manhandling Anni’s body. She also thought him to be insensitive, as he rushed them along, stating that he had to leave the funeral parlour…”
Ami was upset that Dewani had put his foot down when she requested that her mother and other family members from Sweden “be granted an opportunity for 30 minutes” to view Anni’s body and pay their last respects privately before her cremation ceremony the following morning. “But he refused. He stated that the funeral was starting at 10am.”
Vinod said Ami turned around after driving away from the funeral parlour and made arrangements with the parlour director for a private viewing. The Hindochas arrived at the parlour at 9.30am on November 20. After 25 minutes Ami asked mourners to leave to allow her parents five minutes alone with Anni.
Vinod said that as family were filing out “Dewani stormed into the room and took up a position at the head of the coffin. Ami asked him to leave and grant my wife some private time with Anni but he refused and stated that nobody had asked his permission to come and view the body. He also accused us of being inconsiderate and appeared to be very arrogant. I asked him to leave but he refused.”
Dewani put his foot down when he and family members tried to place roses in the coffin.
“l was the first person to walk up to the coffin to do so but when I tried to, Dewani refused, stating, ‘I don’t want this coffin to look like a dustbin.’ He also gave me a look I can only describe as vicious. The roses were placed in a corner. After the ceremony Preyen intervened and handed the roses to Dewani to place in the coffin.”
That evening Dewani’s father Prakash called Vinod to tell him his son was threatening to call off Anni’s memorial service on November 21 if any of the Hindochas attended it. “When I asked him why, Prakash stated I had upset Dewani at the funeral. He suggested I telephone Dewani…”
At a later meeting with his son-in-law, Vinod ate humble pie. “I apologised to Dewani just to keep the peace, and he accepted.” But in the memorial service discussion that followed, Dewani asserted his authority when Vinod indicated he wanted Ami to make a speech. “He refused. I had to concede to this…”
Vinod’s statement concludes with how the Dewanis tried to rope him into signing a document stating there was no family animosity, and into meetings with publicist Max Clifford – now a jailed sex offender – and their South African lawyer, Billy Gundelfinger.
Vinod recorded that Dewani’s brother Preyen arranged a meeting asking that text messages between Anni and Sneha stay private. The messages document Anni’s unhappiness in the build-up to her wedding and her misgivings about Shrien.