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Trial of trio charged with murdering UK couple in KZN delayed after legal teams request more time

Cape Town botanists Rodney and Rachel Saunders. Picture: Supplied

Cape Town botanists Rodney and Rachel Saunders. Picture: Supplied

Published May 17, 2022


Durban - The trial of the three people accused of killing Rodney, 72, and Rachel Saunders, 63, has been delayed by a day after the legal teams involved requested more time to prepare a defence.

The trial, which was initially set to begin on Monday, will commence on Tuesday at the Durban High Court in Pietermaritzburg, according to NPA spokesperson Natasha Ramkisson-Kara.

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Accused one and two, Sayefundeen Aslam Del Vecchio, 39, and his wife, Bibi Fatima Patel, 28, are charged with kidnapping, robbery and murder.

Accused three, Mussa Ahmed Jackson, 35, a Malawian national, also faces charges of kidnapping, robbery and murder.

Del Vecchio and Patel have their own legal counsel, while Jackson has his own for the trial, which was originally set to run from May 16 to June 17.

The three accused allegedly kidnapped and murdered Rodney and his wife, Dr Rachel Saunders, in the Eshowe area, western KZN, in 2018.

The Cape Town-based British couple were botanists.

“The Del Vecchio case is being rolled over to tomorrow for trial. Defence asked for a day to consult with the accused prior to the start of the trial.

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“The request was from the defence. The state was ready to proceed,” Kara-Ramkisson told IOL.

Del Vecchio and Patel were arrested on February 15 in 2018, while Jackson was apprehended on March 23, 2018.

“Del Vecchio is further charged with Malicious Injury to Property for the damage caused to sugar cane fields belonging to Tongaat Hulett in September 2017. The damage caused the company a loss of approximately R2.3 million,” Ramkissoon-Kara added.

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The three accused also face theft charges and contravention of the country’s terrorism act, emanating from the event that sent shock waves throughout the country for its gruesome details.

The state's case against the trio suggests that they allegedly killed Rachel and Rodney Saunders at or near the Ngoye forest area in the magisterial district of Eshowe between February 10 and 15, 2018.

The murder of the Saunders’ also allegedly had Isis ties to it after Del Vecchio and Patel were found in possession of an Isis flag. The couple lived in the Endlovini area on the border of the protected Ngoye Forest Reserve, about 150km north of Durban.

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A search and seizure conducted by investigators at the couple’s rural residence helped the state corroborate their case after a GPS device belonging to the Saunders’, a bankcard and blood stained clothing was found.

The body of Rodney Saunders was found on the banks of the Tugela River in February 2018, according to police at the time.

Rachel’s body was recovered in June later that year. Her body, labelled as identified, was found in a morgue after months of searching.

"A multi-pronged investigation by the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation and the police's forensic science laboratory has last week led to the positive identification of the mortal remains of Rachel Saunders‚ who was allegedly kidnapped in February 2018 together with her husband Rodney Saunders‚ in KwaZulu-Natal‚" SAPS Captain Lloyd Ramovha said in 2018.

The couple were last seen on February 10 near Bivane Dam on the outskirts of Vryheid in KwaZulu-Natal.