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Neil Aggett inquest: 'We've begun to find our way closer to the truth'

23 February 2020 11:02 AM
Tags:
NPA
Neil Aggett
Anti apartheid activist Neil Aggett
apartheid era crimes
Neil Aggett death inquest
Nick Deetlefs
Moray Hathorn
Aggett family
As the fresh inquest enters its final week of testimony, Moray Hathorn (Aggett family attorney) discusses what lies ahead.

Since the second inquest into the death of Neil Aggett started in the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg on 20 January, apartheid-era police members have been subpoenaed to testify.

The doctor and trade unionist was found hanged in his cell at the infamous John Vorster Square police station in 1982.

At the time, the anti-apartheid activist's death was ruled a suicide.

Anti-apartheid activist Neil Aggett was tortured for three days before his death in 1982. Picture: Wikipedia.

RELATED: Apartheid-era police will be subpoenaed to testify in Neil Aggett inquest

The Aggett family attorney, Moray Hathorn, discusses the crucial testimony of former security branch operative Nick Deetlefs, who is accused of torturing political activists held in detention.

Deetlefs testified that Aggett had disclosed information the interrogator regarded as a confession implicating a comrade, and then expressed suicidal thoughts.

[Deetlefs testified] that during this confession Aggett had said to him 'I do not know what more I have to live for. I do not know how I am going to live with myself because I have given away my best friend, Jan Theron.

Moray Hathorn, Aggett family attorney

According to Deetlefs, he relayed the information that Aggett should be considered a suicide risk to the two senior officers concerned.

The reason Deetlefs gave for not coming forward with this at the first inquest, is because he'd been threatened by Major Cronwright and Lieutenant Whitehead.

With closing arguments set down for 27 March, Hathorn says over the next month they'll have to apply their minds to working out if Deetlefs is telling the truth.

Is Deetlefs telling the truth or is he in fact telling another lie to cover up an even graver truth that Aggett might have been murdered directly by the security branch?

Moray Hathorn, Aggett family attorney

A decision on the veracity of the new claims by Deetlefs will have major implications.

If we could argue that Whitehead and Cronwright were in fact acting in a directly opposite way to make things worse for Neil Aggett... that they should have foreseen that a man who was suicidal would commit suicide... The court might say they are guilty of murder on the balance of probabilities, dolus eventualis, that is they would have foreseen by their conduct that there was a real possibility that Neil Aggett would take his life.

Moray Hathorn, Aggett family attorney

This, in turn, would make it possible to argue that Deetlefs should be charged with murder as an accessory after the fact, or as an accessory he says.

We might be able to show that in fact he [Deetlefs] knew that Cronwright in his version and Whitehead had ignored his warning.

Moray Hathorn, Aggett family attorney

Deetlefs had also had the option of going higher in the chain of command to warn of the suicide risk.

The ultimate decision to prosecute or not, will be made by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).

If a prosecution does not take place, the Aggett family would have the right to institute a private prosecution, but Hathorn points out that this is a tricky and costly option.

Although sitting through the evidence is traumatic for the family, Hathorn says it's important for their healing.

I think that we have begun to find our way closer to the truth, although whether we are at the truth yet is I think a very important part of their healing.

Moray Hathorn, Aggett family attorney

Listen to the conversation with Hathorn on Weekend Breakfast with Africa Melane:


23 February 2020 11:02 AM
Tags:
NPA
Neil Aggett
Anti apartheid activist Neil Aggett
apartheid era crimes
Neil Aggett death inquest
Nick Deetlefs
Moray Hathorn
Aggett family

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