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Friday 29 August 2014

Lead detective dropped from Oscar Pistorius case as he himself faces seven attempted murder charges

Published 21/02/2013 | 07:37

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Investigating officer Hilton Botha sits in the witness box during the Oscar Pistorius bail hearing at the magistrates' court in Pretoria (AP)
Investigating officer Hilton Botha sits in the witness box during the Oscar Pistorius bail hearing at the magistrates' court in Pretoria (AP)
South Africa's Oscar Pistorius celebrates with his gold medal after winning the Men's 400m T44 final at the Olympic Stadium, London
South Africa's Oscar Pistorius celebrates with his gold medal after winning the Men's 400m T44 final at the Olympic Stadium, London

THE lead detective in the investigation of Oscar Pistorius over the alleged murder of his girlfriend has been dropped from the case after it emerged he is due to appear in court himself.

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Detective Hilton Botha, who has given evidence against the Paralympian during his bail hearing this week, is facing seven counts of attempted murder and is due to appear in court in May.

He and two other police officers are accused of firing shots while trying to stop a minibus in an incident believed to have happened in October 2011.

At the time, Botha was chasing a man accused of murdering a woman, chopping her up and stuffing the body parts down a drain, local media said.

The charges against Botha were provisionally withdrawn but were reinstated on February 4 - 10 days before the shooting of 29-year-old model and law graduate Reeva Steenkamp in a locked toilet at Pistorius' Pretoria home, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) said.

"The decision to reinstate was taken on February 4, way before the issue of Pistorius came to light or the murder of Reeva was committed," NPA spokesman Medupe Simasiku said. "It's completely unrelated to this trial."

The bail hearing was adjourned earlier today and will restart tomorrow morning, when a bail decision is expected.

"Blade Runner" Pistorius has admitted shooting 29-year-old model Steenkamp, but claims he did so thinking she was a burglar or burglars, who were in the bathroom. He said he opened fire in the dark because he was too scared to turn a light on.

Realising his mistake, he broke the door down with a cricket bat and carried her downstairs, he said.

Yesterday Botha acknowledged the prosecution had no evidence challenging the double-amputee Paralympian's claim that he killed his girlfriend accidentally, as well as admitting a number of police blunders in the investigation.

He said there was "no way" he believed Pistorius's version of events, adding: "I believe he knew she was in the bathroom and he shot four shots through the door."

Medupe Simasiku, of the National Prosecution Agency, previously said prosecutors were unaware of the charges against Botha when they put him up in court to explain why Pistorius should not be given bail.

Police Brigadier Neville Malila, of the South African Police Service, said officers learned yesterday that the charges against Botha and the two others had been reinstated by the Director of Public Prosecutions. They were initially dropped following the shooting incident.

Pistorius - a double amputee dubbed "Blade Runner" because of his carbon fibre racing blades - faces life in prison if convicted of premeditated murder over the shooting of his girlfriend.

The revelation about Botha capped a troubling 24 hours for South Africa's prosecution service.

Under cross-examination at the bail hearing yesterday, the detective was accused of contaminating the crime scene in Pistorius's house and had to backtrack on details such as the distance of witnesses from the athlete's home.

Grilled by lead defence counsel Barry Roux, he also had to concede that Pistorius's version of events - that he fired into the toilet door in a blind panic thinking an intruder was lurking behind it - was plausible.

Pressing home the defence's advantage to argue for Pistorius' release, Roux said: "The poor quality of evidence presented by the chief investigating officer exposed disastrous shortcomings in the state's case."

The 26-year-old runner denies murder and was more composed in court after repeatedly breaking down in previous hearings.

His uncle, Arnold Pistorius, said his nephew was eating again after consuming nothing for six days and had spent much of his time in police custody reading the Bible.

A full trial is likely to take many months, and even if he is acquitted, Pistorius faces a huge challenge in rebuilding his career and image in the eyes of the millions around the world who saw him as the epitome of triumph over adversity.

Before the adjournment, prosecutor Gerrie Nel tried to recapture the initiative, reminding the court of the seriousness of the charges facing Pistorius.

"His actions are indicative of a man who was willing and ready to kill," Nel said. "There were two people in the house. One survived to give his version."

The proceedings have gripped South Africans, who have found themselves debating the finer points of police forensics and the ins and outs of the criminal justice process.

As public opinion has swayed back and forth, schoolchildren have come to blows in playgrounds over the athlete's innocence or guilt, and on Thursday "Hilton Botha" was a top-trending topic on Twitter in South Africa.

"We talk about the case every day. It's all over the news. You can't ignore it," said Happy Ngwenya, a taxi driver waiting for rides in Johannesburg's Sandton financial district.

"He must face his music but the thing is, here in South Africa, criminals have so many rights."

With massive international media interest in the case against a global celebrity, many South Africans feel the apparent hiccups on the part of the state prosecution were hurting the country's image in the eyes of the world.

"Bring someone from outside to sort out this mess," said businessman Godfrey Baloyi. "The whole justice system needs an overhaul."

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