‘I don’t know how she died’

By Charmel Payet Time of article published Sep 1, 2013

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Durban - Georgie Smith is a broken woman. A year after finding her vivacious 25-year-old daughter’s lifeless body sprawled on the floor of her Rivermead apartment, she still has more questions than answers – and she blames this on police ineptitude.

She still doesn’t know how her daughter died. She doesn’t know if foul play is suspected or why she died. And a toxicology report that could answer these questions has not been finalised almost a year later.

Adding to her distress is the fact that the clothes her daughter, Tamlyn Smith, was wearing when she was taken to the state mortuary, and which could contain possible DNA evidence, have gone missing.

Smith has lodged a complaint with the Secretariat for Police (which investigates police negligence) and with the provincial South African Police Service calling for disciplinary action against the two officers who processed the scene.

A heartbroken Smith cried throughout the interview last week, saying she was a broken woman after losing the light of her life. The walls of her living room are covered with pictures of Tamlyn.

Smith said that after waiting months for the autopsy report, it came back with “cause of death unknown: awaiting toxicology report”.

“People don’t know what it’s like to lose a child. It has destroyed me and my husband,” said a tearful Smith, her hand trembling as she smoked. “I am an empty shell. To lose a child is against nature, a child should not die before their parents.”

Police spokesman Colonel Jay Naicker denied police negligence, saying that from the case docket it was clear “all the necessary investigation was done on the crime scene and recorded in the docket”.

He said an inquest docket was opened and no foul play was suspected.

“The pathologist is awaiting the results of the toxicology report to make a final finding. The family have been kept abreast of what was uncovered during the investigation and they are aware of the findings made by police.”

Regarding the missing clothes, he said the deceased’s clothes were sent to the undertaker, but the undertakers have been unable to find the clothes.

Jenni Irish-Qhobosheane, deputy director-general of the Secretariat of Police, confirmed a complaint was received on August 16 and is being investigated.

She said they have referred the matter to the KZN inspectorate and expect a response by September 16 at the latest.

“We understand the matter is receiving serious attention. The allegations are being investigated by the KZN inspectorate and the forensic crime managers simultaneously,” she said.

“Negligence is regarded as misconduct and it is punishable within SAPS. There are policies governing how these issues are managed.”

She said she was assisting the family to expedite the process of getting the outstanding toxicology report.

Recalling the events leading to her daughter’s death, Smith said Tamlyn had gone out with friends on September 30 last year, but arrived home at 9pm. She had texted friends and updated her Facebook page until 1.36am.

When Smith didn’t hear from her by midday the following day, she grew anxious, breaking down the door of the apartment when Tamlyn didn’t answer.

“She was lying under the stairs on her back, her hands were balled into fists on her side and she was so badly bruised. Her acrylic tip nails were broken and laying next to her – all signs of a struggle,” said Smith, as tears streamed down her face. “Her sandals were hanging off her feet, but were still tied around her ankles. Her dress was pulled up revealing her panties and her bra,” said Smith.

“The two officers who responded were very unprofessional, laughing and joking while they supposedly worked. They didn’t care that the light of my life was dead. They treated her like she was nothing,” Smith sobbed.

Ward Councillor Tim Brauteseth has also been assisting the family. He has looked into Tamlyn’s cellphone and computer history and has interviewed the people who last saw her alive.

“From her cellphone records we see she invited a person, known to us, to visit her in the early hours of October 1. We are tracking this person as they may be the last person to see her alive. The cause of death is unknown. There were no signs of blunt force trauma, strangling or a knife or bullet wound.

“I am trying to expedite the toxicology report to help the family get closure. We also want disciplinary action to be taken against the two officers for negligence,” he said.

Brauteseth said the case highlights the serious problem with collecting forensic evidence.

“The first respondents on the scene need to be adequately trained to collect the evidence, which wasn’t done here.”

Smith said Tamlyn was born 12 years after her two other daughters, and they had a special bond.

“I am not living, I am merely existing. She was so beautiful, inside and out. She had such a gentle spirit. She would write me poems, and I would find them all over the house. Simple messages about how she loved and appreciated me. I think I miss that the most.”

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Sunday Tribune

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