Detective in Pistorius case removed over attempted murder charges

Hilton Botha, lead detective in the Pistorius case, in court during a break in proceedings yesterday. photograph: mike hutchings/reuters

Hilton Botha, lead detective in the Pistorius case, in court during a break in proceedings yesterday. photograph: mike hutchings/reuters

Fri, Feb 22, 2013, 00:00

The police officer leading the investigation in the Oscar Pistorius murder case was replaced yesterday after it emerged he was facing seven charges of attempted murder relating to a shooting incident in 2011.

South Africa’s national police commissioner, Gen Riah Phiyega, announced last night that Lt Gen Vinesh Moonoo, a divisional commissioner in charge of the detective service in South Africa, whom she described as “South Africa’s top detective”, had been chosen to take over the remainder of the investigation as Det Hilton Botha was himself facing charges.

The Pistorius case “shall receive attention at the national level” and Lt Gen Moonoo “will gather a team of highly skilled and experienced detectives,” the police commissioner said.

Members of the public and media attending the fourth day of Mr Pistorius’s bail hearing had earlier been left stunned by the news that Mr Botha, a veteran officer with 24 years’ experience, was facing attempted murder charges.

The detective, who helped to convict the murderer of white supremacist Eugene Terre’Blanche, had spent much of Wednesday on the witness stand arguing why the Paralympic athlete should be refused bail by the courts.

Mr Pistorius is accused of murdering his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp, on February 14th at his Pretoria home and is in the process of trying to secure bail. He denies murder, saying he shot her because he thought she was an intruder.

Police have confirmed that Mr Botha and two other officers allegedly opened fire on a minibus taxi full of passengers.

Local media have said he was chasing a man accused of murdering a woman and disposing of her dismembered body down a drain. The three officers are due to court in relation to the charges in May.

Charges dropped

They were first arrested after the event in October 2011 and subsequently charged, according to Eyewitness News. The charges were then dropped, but reinstated again on February 4th, 10 days before Mr Pistorius shot Ms Steenkamp in his Pretoria home.

“There was a decision taken by the DPP’s office to charge the members, each one of them with seven counts of attempted murder,” police spokesman Neville Malila said. “That was the number of people that were in the taxi.”

The authorities have insisted the decision to charge Mr Botha is in no way connected to Mr Pistorius’s case.

The development rounds off a difficult couple of days for the state and the senior police officer, who struggled under cross-examination by Mr Pistorius’s defence, Barry Roux.

Mr Roux accused Mr Botha of contaminating the crime scene by failing to wear protective clothing on his feet when he moved around.

Mr Botha conceded he had entered the premises without the protective clothing, but maintained he had only done so because there was none available at the time.

He was also forced to amend his testimony in relation to the proximity of the witness who heard screaming and gunshots coming from Mr Pistorius’s house.

“The poor quality of evidence presented by the chief investigating officer exposed disastrous shortcomings in the state’s case,” Mr Roux said.

Seasoned detective

When word of Mr Botha’s pending charges first came to light late last night, the police maintained he was chosen to handle the Pistorius case because he is a seasoned detective and there were no plans to pull him off the investigation.

“The member is innocent until proven guilty,” Mr Malila said. “The member was chosen by the station to do the investigation due to the fact that he is a senior.”