Former murder-accused, Fred van der Vyver got the green light from the courts to bring a R46 million claim against the police for malicious prosecution, but he might just be wasting his time. With the police’s track record of damages payment, there’s every chance that he will never see the money. CARIEN DU PLESSIS reports.
It was an emotional end to six years of court battles after Fred van der Vyver, now an actuarial assistant, was accused of murdering his girlfriend and fellow Stellenbosch student at the time, Inge Lotz.
Four years ago, he was acquitted of the murder, and on Monday, Cape High Court Judge Anton Veldhuizen found that there was no evidence to indicate that Van der Vyver had killed her. Veldhuizen ruled that Van der Vyver could continue with his civil claim against the police.
Another process will now have to start next year to determine how much of the R46 million he’s claiming he is entitled to.
But he might have to wait a while, as police ministry spokesman Zweli Mnisi said the police’s lawyers were studying the judgement and are likely to appeal – something which has become something of a reflex reaction for the police in civil cases, and the SA government as a whole.
Even if Van der Vyver holds out for another couple of years, pushes through, fights the appeal and gets an award (which would include his legal costs), the police has a very bad track record of actually paying up.
DA police spokeswoman Dianne Kohler-Barnard said the police’s legal services “have been dysfunctional for years”.
She had been waging a campaign against the former head of legal services, Lindiwe Mtimkulu, who was suspended last year after an R8 million investigation found gross mismanagement of the police litigation services under her watch.
Kohler-Barnard said the problems remained and the police was more likely to fight court cases than actually conceding when they were wrong and pay up.
“Your chances of being paid out by the police are very low,” she said.
Kohler-Barnard said the best way to go about claims against the police is to approach the Independent Complaints Directorate to sue the police on your behalf.
While this is not the usual procedure in a case like Van der Vyver’s, it is technically possible.
The police investigation itself was also a “shambles”, forensics expert David Klatzow told Daily Maverick.
He said police laboratories have been in steady decline, making it almost impossible for police to back up cases with evidence.
Klatzow said there were many cases like Van der Vyver’s coming before the courts now, because of this decline.
“The labs are on the edge of collapse, and now you are starting to see the effect of this in open court.”
Van der Vyver’s was a high profile case, but Klatzow said he was dealing with another case where the accused had been in prison for 12 years while the police was trying to prove a case on fractured evidence.
Klatzow said the problem was also that incompetent people were appointed in the police and labs. “Political interference in the appointment of police staff is a problem.”
He reckons Van der Vyver’s case against the police was good. “Police are planning to appeal an unappealable case. They should just bow out and pay the price for it”. DM
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