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Trio on trial for UK couple’s murder disrupt court proceedings and accuse judge of violating their rights

Rodney Saunders and his wife Dr Rachel Saunders, 63, went missing in the Vryheid area in February 2018. File picture

Rodney Saunders and his wife Dr Rachel Saunders, 63, went missing in the Vryheid area in February 2018. File picture

Published May 19, 2022

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Durban: The matter involving the state versus Del Vecchio, Patel and Jackson has experienced further delays after the three accused in the kidnapping and murder case became disruptive in open court this week.

Sayefundeen Aslam Del Vecchio, 39, Bibi Fatima Patel, 28, and Mussa Ahmed Jackson, 35, left the Durban High Court during their trial on Wednesday, National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson Natasha Ramkissoon-Kara said.

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She said that as the State was about to present its first witness, the three accused became disruptive and accused Judge Sharmane Balton of violating their constitutional rights.

Patel then turned around and addressed the media in open court, Ramkissoon-Kara added.

“The State addressed the court in terms of S150 of the Criminal Procedure Act, outlining the way forward, and attempted to call its first witness. The accused became disruptive, accused the judge of violating their constitutional rights, insisted that the matter commence with a trial within a trial and that the judge not hear any other evidence first.

“When the judge began to explain that this was not procedural, accused two (Patel) turned around and addressed the media in the court and thereafter all three accused left the court. They refused to participate further in the trial,” she said.

Judge Balton has given the defence two days to consult with the accused and warned that the trial would proceed on May 23, whether or not the three were present.

“At all times, the State has been ready to proceed. Arrangements were also previously made by the State for the attorneys to consult with the accused in prison,” Ramkissoon-Kara said.

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The accused also tried to dispute evidence before the State could present it. Del Vecchio and Patel instructed their attorney, Bulelani Mazomba, to request a “trial within a trial”.

Balton informed them that it was not the procedure and they would have to first enter a plea.

The three accused have pleaded not guilty on charges of robbery, kidnapping and murder.

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The trial of the three accused of kidnapping and murdering Rodney and Rachel Saunders in 2018, was initially due to run from May 16 until June 17, but has experienced delays because the defence has requested postponements since Monday.

It is understood that the Saunders, a popular botanist couple, had dual citizenship for the UK and SA.

Rod and Rachel Saunders spent three days filming in the Drakensberg with Robin Matthews, his Big Banana Films crew and BBC’s Gardeners’ World presenter Nick Bailey ​before disappearing into thin air. Picture: Robin Matthews/Facebook

The State has accused the three of kidnapping the Saunders’ near the Bivane Dam in Vryheid, KwaZulu-Natal on February 12, 2018. Investigations indicate both suffered blunt-force trauma.

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