Durban - An aeronautical engineering expert on Thursday gave detailed evidence before the reopened inquest into Dr Hoosen Haffejee’s death on how improbable it was for the 26-year-old dentist to commit suicide in the position that his body was found.
Haffejee was detained by police on August 1, 1977 while on his way to work in Durban and died in detention on August 3, 1977 with police claiming that he had committed suicide by hanging himself with his trousers from a grille door at the Brighton Beach Police Station.
The police’s suicide claims were also backed up by the findings of a 1978 inquest into Haffejee’s death led by magistrate Trevor Blunden.
Thivash Moodley, an aeronautical engineer who has worked for the past 22 years in mechanical and aeronautical engineering in aerospace defence, maritime and logistics in road and rail, on Thursday broke down the improbability of Haffejee committing suicide given the position he was found in his cell.
In the picture evidence and video re-enactment provided to the court, Moodley said that Haffejee’s body was hanging from the lowest bar of the grille door and a mere 400mm from the ground although Haffejee was 1.75m in height.
Moodley said that following a series of mathematical calculations they established whether at 400mm off the ground a person could actually suspend themselves and hang themselves to death or if it was a case of suffocation in which the method of suffocation is strangulation could the person strangle themselves from that position or if there was a third person involved in the strangulation.
He said that they had measured the cell door and taken all the relevant dimensions and concluded that Haffejee was a mere 400mm from the ground when he body was found.
He said that on Wednesday during an in loco inspection at the Brighton Beach Police Station cell in which Haffejee’s lifeless body was found they could see that there were several other places that could have been used to also hang or suspend himself, such as the higher parts of the door and the three windows that were available.
“But it was weird that a person would choose the lowest bar of the door which is probably the least likely height that you would be able to strangle yourself from, I mean even the bar higher would give you a lot more suspension when you hang from it.
“In this situation it created the impression that the lowest bar and that’s what gave us also some sort of inclination to believe that if a third person was involved it could be very easy to use the lowest bar, strangulate the person, tie them to the lowest bar and then close the door behind them,” Moodley.
Moodley said that he had been instructed by NPA in 2018 to conduct experiments, reports and videos on the death of Haffejee.
“We were sent a series of documents, inquest documents, autopsy reports and a series of photographs and we read the reports and we also analysed the photographs to try and recreate it and we also did a site visit to the Brighton Beach Police Station to try and understand what the situation was,” Moodley said.
Moodley, founder of TMI Dynamatics which provides real time simulation-centric solutions in various fields including aerospace, said that they had been furnished with two autopsy reports, one from the state pathologist Professor Isodore Gordon and another one from an independent orthopaedic surgeon, Dr. David Hobson Biggs, appointed by the family.
“Professor Gordon basically declared the cause of death to be consistent with hanging, which is typically suspension and due to the person’s body weight and gravity that could cause suffocation and the person could die.
“Dr DH Biggs, on the other hand, stated that in this situation based on the pictures and his analysis it could be due to suffocation which would be in the form of strangulation,” Moodley said.