Suspects who allegedly set a man of fire for stealing a grass cutter plead not guilty
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Durban: Four men including two police officers, accused of kidnapping and killing a Phoenix man for allegedly stealing a grass-cutting machine, have pleaded not guilty.
The trial started in the Durban High Court last week.
Seelan Pillay, 46, was allegedly kidnapped, doused with petrol and set alight in May 2019. He sustained second and third-degree burns and died of his injuries two days later in hospital.
According to the post-mortem results, Pillay’s cause of death was established as ‘burns over 80% of total body surface area with inhalation burns’.
Anben 'Fat Cat' Chinsamy, 48, of Ravenstone Place in Phoenix, his brother, Sugendran 'Shoes' Chinsamy, 32, of Treehaven Place, Warrant Officer Theagasen Naidoo, 47, of Stoneham Drive and Constable Tristan Durant Pillay, 33, of Eastbury, were arrested and charged with the murder.
Naidoo, Tristan and Anben were also charged with kidnapping and defeating the administration of justice.
The brothers are represented by attorney Teslyn David, and the policemen by attorney Ravindra Maniklall.
The State, represented by senior State advocate Cheryl Naidu, alleged that the four accused had acted in common purpose to commit the offences.
According to the indictment, Anben, who suspected Pillay stole his grass-cutting machine, enlisted the help of the policemen to detain the deceased in order for them to subject him to a vigilante investigation.
The state alleged that on the night of May 10, the policemen picked up Pillay from Grassfern Road in Phoenix, under the pretext of placing him under arrest. According to the State, Anben was present at all times.
They took him in a police vehicle to a house in Berrystone Place in Phoenix. The policemen then released Pillay into Anben’s custody for interrogation, and said they would return shortly for the deceased’s body.
The State alleged Pillay was forced to sit on the ground outside the house where Anben assaulted him while trying to get information about the machine.
A short while later, Sugendran arrived and also hit Pillay.
At some point Anben left for a short while and returned with a container of petrol which he poured over Pillay. He then lit a piece of toilet paper and set Pillay alight. Sugendran allegedly continued to assault Pillay.
It is claimed that as the flames engulfed Pillay, Anben kicked him down an embankment. Thereafter the brothers took Pillay in a vehicle to the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Hospital in Phoenix.
At the start of the trial, all four accused pleaded not guilty to all charges.
In his plea statement, Anben denied that he had formed a common purpose with any of his co-accused or other persons to kill, harm or kidnap Pillay.
He said that on the day, he was with Pillay on the corner of Berrystone Road when they argued about the machine which was stolen from a house earlier that day.
“All the guys from the neighbourhood were there as well. They started hitting the deceased as he did not want to tell us where the machine was. He was known for stealing things in the area. I also tried to hit him but was unable to due to the number of guys that were already there."
He said the deceased agreed to get the machine.
"He began walking towards the bank and I noticed a lighter in his hand. A few seconds later I saw him catch alight. I proceeded to run towards him. The rest of the guys ran away,” he said.
Anben said he then rolled the deceased down the bank to put the fire out and grabbed a blanket off a table.
“I then saw my brother walking up and proceeded to shout for him to help me. He proceeded towards me and assisted. He called for transport.”
He said they took Pillay to hospital. He said they left when they were asked to by a nurse attending to Pillay.
In his statement, Anben said the petrol tank had a leak which could explain how petrol was on Pillay.
In his statement, Sugendran denied that he assaulted Pillay or was an accomplice in his death.
"If anything, I had assisted the deceased by getting transport to take him to the hospital and extinguishing the deceased..."
Both Naidoo and Pillay denied the allegations in their plea statements.
They said that on the day in question, they were on duty performing the official functions of a police officer and acted in accordance with all the required legal prescripts as set out in the police act, regulations and standing orders.
Donovan Chetty, a State witness, testified this week that when he arrived at his home on Berrystone Road, situated three doors away from where the incident occurred, he saw Pillay sitting in a crouched position up against a wall.
“From my yard, I saw a group of guys, about six or seven in Gaggy’s yard. I could hear a lot of people talking so I went forward to see what was going on. I saw Seelan seated on the floor. I saw Shoes (Sugendran) beating up Seelan by punching and hitting him on his face and body. I also got the smell of petrol.”
Chetty said he saw Anben standing next to the deceased, questioning him about the machine.
“Seelan said he would take them to the town where he sold the machine. Then Fat Cat went into Gaggy’s house and came out with tissue paper and went towards Seelan. He lit the paper and was waving it towards him. Seelan caught alight and he stood up. The flames were as high as the wall. It was like something you see in the movies.”
Chetty said he ran to his home to get water to douse the fire. When he returned he found the deceased seated on the staircase at the bottom of the embankment.
“He was looking all black … he was badly burnt. I saw Shoes put a blanket on Seelan, while he was talking on the phone. Couple minutes later a car arrived, I believe a relative of Shoes and Fat Cat. They put Seelan into the car and left.”
Chetty said he returned to his home and did not discuss the incident with anyone thereafter.
All four accused are out on bail.