By David Macgregor

The Fairhead family has called the SABC "sick, very cruel and unfair" for showing horrifying photographs of the battered and bloodied faces of Cape Town businesswoman Brenda Fairhead and her daughter, Kia.

The police photographs, taken on a mortuary slab, were used as court exhibits during the trial in which their killers were given multiple life sentences.

The SABC's use of the photographs in a television news bulletin this week came as a setback to the Fairhead family, which is still battling to come to terms with the senseless murders.

For three weeks widower and bereaved father Nigel Fairhead and his relatives sat in a tiny Port Alfred courtroom listening to the traumatic details of the final, terrifying hours of his loved ones, trying to visualise their terror but without seeing the photographs of his wife's battered, strangled and stabbed body.

The last memories he had of Brenda and Kia were when he waved them goodbye as they left to go fishing on the Fish River near Kleinemond in the Eastern Cape, where they were on holiday in January.

But on Wednesday Mr Fairhead saw just how much they had suffered when SABC2 and 3 showed photographs of their faces during their 7pm and 8pm news broadcasts.

Although news readers issued a "warning to sensitive viewers" before showing them, the shocking pictures have elicited angry responses from people in Port Alfred, who turned up in droves every day for the court case.

Several residents described the images as "shocking".

"I have been to the trial every day and have listened to all the evidence, but the most shocking thing for me was when I saw the battered and bloodied face of the mother on TV. It was so awful and insensitive that our dinner guests stopped eating supper," a resident said.

A devastated Vashti Fairhead, Mr Fairhead's elder daughter from a previous marriage, said she had "freaked out in a fit of sobbing and wailing" when she saw the "very cruel and unfair" photographs of her stepmother and sister on the news broadcast.

The pictures have left Mr Fairhead too heartbroken to comment.

"It was all very devastating for Nigel to see those sick photographs on television, especially after he had purposely avoided seeing any of the pictures throughout the whole, almost six-month, ordeal.

"Everyone is in agony and pain because the images were so shocking and disgusting. It was insensitive to broadcast the horrific pictures and is definitely not the way Brenda and Kia would have liked to have been remembered among friends, family and the rest of South Africa."

TV news executive editor Snuki Zikalala on Friday defended the broadcast, saying "sensitive viewers were warned not to watch".

"TV is a visual medium. If people do not know what really happened, it is very difficult for them to visualise it. That is why we showed the pictures."

But he apologised to the family, adding that he knew of no other complaints about the broadcast.

Mrs Fairhead's nephew, Sean Jones, on Friday slammed the broadcast of the pictures as a "gross invasion". He said he was considering lodging a complaint with the Independent Broadcasting Authority after being urged by colleagues to take the matter further.

"It was a huge shock for everyone to see those distasteful images on TV. It was an invasion of Brenda and Kia's personal right to privacy. By complaining we may be able to ensure that other families do not have to suffer the same indignities as we have."

Jones, who helped identify the bodies after they were found in a Keiskamma Pass ravine, said he had just come to terms with the shock of identifying the bodies when he saw the broadcast.

"I had just managed to put the identification of the bodies out of my mind when this happened. It was all over, the case was finished and the killers got long jail terms, when suddenly we were shown these pictures and everything came flooding back. It all sticks in my mind so vividly now."

Jones, who is the director of the Natal University office for community outreach and service learning, said the irony of the killings was that he was working on a crime-reduction project in schools to avoid incidents like the abduction of his aunt and cousin happening. The project was aimed at building self-esteem and helping young disadvantaged school children realise their full potential.

"The broadcast of the pictures showed extremely bad taste and judgment. They were merely broadcast to shock viewers. There was enough dramatic footage of the angry black crowds wanting to lynch the killers and them spitting back. Wasn't that enough?"

Robin Duncan, Mrs Fairhead's niece, said from her Port Alfred farm "there is a lot of anger in the community about the photos".

"It is very hard to get the awful images out of your head. Brenda was barely recognisable through all the blood. It is all incredibly upsetting, as we had avoided the pictures."

Brothers Bongani and Zolani Tom, both 22, and their 17-year-old cousin were sentenced to a total of eight life terms and 91 years for the abduction, robbery, murder, rape and attempted indecent assault of Mrs Fairhead and Kia.

The youth, who was 16 at the time of the killings, earned the dubious distinction of being the youngest person in South African legal history to be given a life sentence, let alone two.

As the three were led through the packed court room after sentencing, angry scenes were captured by television news crews as a relative of the Fairheads, Roger Hilligan, took a swing at ringleader Bongani Tom.

Then there were even more dramatic scenes of the mainly black crowd being kept at bay by a human chain of police as they surged at the killers.

The youth spat and cursed at the crowd who pleaded with police to hand the killers over to them for "people's justice".

These images were broadcast with a brief flash of the two photographs.

Rhodes University journalism head Guy Berger on Friday said although he was "hesitant to condemn the footage outright", the public reaction showed that maybe more serious warnings to viewers were needed.

"It is all a very grey area. On one hand, it brings home the severity of the crimes to the public but it is also an indignity for family. The SABC can be commended for the warning but it may not have been adequate."