Wednesday 22 October 2014

Watches in Pistorius's home 'stolen by police'

Aislinn Laing in Pretoria

Published 15/03/2014 | 02:30

Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius sits in the dock during court proceedings at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria March 14, 2014. Pistorius is on trial for murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp at his suburban Pretoria home on Valentine's Day last year. REUTERS/Phill Magakoe/Pool (SOUTH AFRICA - Tags: SPORT ATHLETICS CRIME LAW)
Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius

Two of Oscar Pistorius's expensive watches disappeared from his home after Reeva Steenkamp was killed, his murder trial has been told.

The court heard how police forensics teams may have botched evidence by slapdash handling of key exhibits, including that of the 9mm Parabellum pistol the athlete used to shoot 29-year-old Ms Steenkamp, which was picked up by a ballistics expert without wearing gloves.

The lavatory door through which he shot her was removed from the scene to stop police selling photographs to the media and transported back to the station, it also emerged.

The latest disclosures came after the court was shown photographs of Mr Pistorius (right) at the crime scene, bare-chested and wearing shorts soaked in blood, with more blood smeared on his arms and legs. Pallid and shell-shocked, he stares directly at the camera. More close-up pictures showed the lavatory where Ms Steenkamp was shot, its bowl, seat and sides covered in blood.

The pictures were displayed in court as part of a series accompanying the evidence of Colonel SG van Rensburg, the local station commander who was among the first on the scene.

Col Van Rensburg was giving evidence on Day 10 of the trial at Pretoria High Court. The state says the 27-year-old Paralympic champion murdered Ms Steenkamp intentionally after the couple argued. He contends he shot her four times thinking she was an intruder.

Col van Rensburg said he had warned Mr Pistorius that, because of his celebrity, his home in a secure Pretoria estate might be mined for "memorabilia".

But he conceded he was "furious" when watches worth between €3,340 and €6,700 vanished within hours of police arriving on St Valentine's Day last year.

Col van Rensburg, who left his job under a cloud shortly after the killing, said he had asked a police photographer to "keep an eye" on the case of eight watches on a cabinet in Mr Pistorius's bedroom.

He said he was astonished when another officer came to him to say that at least one was missing. He summoned all the policemen and searched their bags and cars but found nothing, he told the court.

GLOVES

Barry Roux, Mr Pistorius's defence barrister, said that two watches had been stolen and never found.

Col van Rensburg said he was further horrified to see a ballistics expert pick up and cock the suspected murder weapon without gloves.

"I asked him, 'What are you doing?'," he said. "He said sorry and put the magazine back in the firearm and he put it back on the carpet."

He said he decided to remove the lavatory door the day after the shooting because it was "our most valuable evidence" and journalists were already offering up to €3,560 for pictures.

He said he kept the door in his own office rather than the evidence lock-up because he could not trust his colleagues not to "tamper" with it.

Dr David Klatzow, one of South Africa's leading forensic scientists, said such police blunders could result in the case being thrown out. "More people get acquitted in this country because of police incompetence than because of proof of innocence," he said. But a member of the prosecution team dismissed the reference to police blunders as "dust" being kicked up by Mr Pistorius's defence.

The trial continues. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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