Neil Aggett inquest: Blow to Deetlefs’s credibility
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Johannesburg - Former security branch police officer Nick Deetlefs’s credibility as a witness in the inquest into the death of anti-apartheid activist Dr Neil Aggett was dealt another heavy blow on Wednesday after the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) accused him of tailoring his evidence.
Aggett was found hanging in his cell at the John Vorster Square police station in 1982, after days of torture during interrogation while in detention with other political activists.
Deetlefs is among the interrogators accused of having tortured political activists, and was one of the security officers who questioned Aggett before he died.
On Wednesday, the NPA’s Jabulani Mlotshwa charged that there were too many coincidences in the police claim, corroborated by Deetlefs, that Aggett had killed himself in his cell, for it to be probable.
“Firstly, it is the items that are in the cell that Aggett could have used to hang himself with. Secondly, there was suddenly three hours of non-visiting to the cells, where the visits were usually done hourly,” Mlotshwa said.
An inventory inspection in Aggett’s cell had found a tie, five pairs of socks and the scarf with which he allegedly hanged himself, despite detainees not being allowed to keep any items that they could hang themselves with.
Deetlefs admitted that it was puzzling how the items were found in Aggett’s cell despite the routine checks that were made.
Mlotshwa said this was even more irregular given Deetlefs’s claim that he had detected and reported Aggett’s suicidal tendencies from the time he interrogated him.
“If what you are telling us is true, it would mean he was given every tool to hang himself with,” he said.
Deetlefs was on Wednesday hard-pressed to explain why he gave different dates in his numerous statements regarding his recollection of the date he claimed Aggett had died.
Mlotshwa pushed Deetlefs to also explain why he said Aggett had died on February 1 in 1982 in his statement dated 2000, while he agreed with the official record of his death of February 5, in his affidavit to the inquest, which he claimed was a mistake.
“This statement from year 2000 was done with the intention to be used at the labour court. It was sent to the police to be sent to the labour section where they would be busy with my medical disability,” Deetlefs said.
Mlotshwa said the date of Aggett’s death was crucial because he had lodged a complaint of torture against his chief interrogator, Lieutenant Steve Whitehead, the day before he was found dead on February 5.
“It is important here to know when it was that Whitehead had the last consultation with Aggett,” he said.
Some of the witnesses who were detained with Aggett have accused the security police of killing him and staging his suicide.
The NPA concludes its cross-examination of Deetlefs on Thursday.