Wednesday 22 October 2014

Bailed Pistorius goes from hero to hunted as he flees the media

Daniel Howden Pretoria

Published 23/02/2013 | 04:00

Oscar Pistorius in Pretoria magistrate’s court. On the right is his coach, Ampie Louw, and on the left is his brother, Carl.

Oscar Pistorius got his first taste of his new life as he left Pretoria magistrates' court hiding under a jacket in the back of his uncle's car.

As the vehicle weaved at speed through rush-hour traffic, it was chased by photographers on motorcyles and a convertible with a cameraman leaning out the back.

The Paralympian's involvement in the violent death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, has transformed him from hero to hunted.

The nature of that involvement in the killing is still at issue after magistrate Desmond Nair freed the athlete on bail while he awaits trial on the charge of premeditated murder.

Pistorius, who is a double amputee, will return to the same court in early June for what is expected to be a lengthy trial, based on what was a marathon of a bail hearing stretching over four days.

Firearms

The magistrate had one last surprise yesterday as he quadrupled the amount the state had requested for bail from the equivalent of €21,400 to €86,000.

Pistorius, a gun enthusiast, must turn in any firearms he owns and surrender his two passports. He cannot leave the district of South Africa's capital without the permission of his new probation officer.

The man who has emerged as a reckless daredevil during the bail hearings has also been barred from consuming any drugs or alcohol and must be available to verify his compliance through a testing regimen.

Ultimately, dogged prosecutor Gerrie Nel's efforts to have the 26-year-old kept in custody were ruined by the bungling of investigating officer Hilton Botha.

The detective, who was dramatically removed from what may be South Africa's trial of the century when it emerged he was facing seven counts of attempted murder, made a string of errors which were exposed by the defence under cross-examination.

In his summing up yesterday, the magistrate referred to Mr Botha's "several errors" and "astounding" inability to judge how far away witnesses were who claimed to have heard arguments, shots and screaming on the night Ms Steenkamp was killed.

Judge Nair offered some hope to the prosecution for the trial ahead when he said: "Warrant officer Botha is not the state case, the state case is comprised of experts who will put together circumstantial evidence."

Sitting only a few feet from Pistorius as he was granted bail were two representatives of the dead woman's family who came to "make sure Reeva was represented".

"This is a bail application, not a trial," said Kim Myers, a close friend of the deceased 29-year-old model.

"We hope and trust that justice will prevail," she added.

As Pistorius supporters celebrated inside and outside the court, she added: "It's important to remember that someone has lost their life."

Minutes later outside Court C, Arnold Pistorius, the accused's gaunt and white-haired uncle, said: "We are happy and relieved that Oscar has been granted bail today, but at the same time we are in mourning for the death of Reeva Steenkamp.

"As the family, we know Oscar's version of what happened that tragic night and we know that that is the truth and that will prevail in the coming court case."

There was evidence of a sort that the influence of their PR man and former 'Sun' editor Stuart Higgins was being felt.

After a wary start in which the Pistorius family refused to speak to the media, they have struck some balance between defending their most famous son while making the appropriate noises in the direction of a woman who he was, according to his friends' testimony, considering marrying.

Bail became inevitable after the magistrate was not convinced that one of the world's most recognisable sportsmen, whose prosthetic legs require weekly maintenance, was a realistic flight threat.

(© Independent News Service)

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