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Sat Sep 20 07:56:17 SAST 2014

Witness tells of Oscar trial hell

Leonie Wagner | 25 August, 2014 00:04
Stipp and her husband, Johan, live near Pistorius's former Pretoria home, in which he shot his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, last year. File photo
Image by: POOL / REUTERS

"We feel trampled by a bus," one of the witnesses who testified in Blade Runner Oscar Pistorius's murder trial has said.

Annette Stipp's experience is cited in a recently released research paper on the trauma of being a witness in a criminal trial.

Stipp and her husband, Johan, live near Pistorius's former Pretoria home, in which he shot his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, last year. As witnesses for the prosecution, they told the court of what they heard and saw on the morning of the shooting.

She described testifying, and what followed, as "emotional, daunting and exhausting". She said she felt as if she were being personally attacked and was not sure that she would go through it again.

Stipp was interviewed for a research paper by Karen Tewson, head of court preparation at the National Prosecuting Authority.

The paper reveals that many witnesses and victims are traumatised and suffer secondary victimisation on the witness stand, often during gruelling cross-examination by the likes of Pistorius's advocate, Barry Roux.

This, Tewson said, might lead to witnesses and victims refusing to participate in court cases, which might result in vigilantism, mob justice and other forms of anarchy.

Tewson's research found that witnesses are often "embarrassed" about testifying in a room full of strangers in an "intimidating court environment", and by "often hostile" cross-examination by lawyers who try to discredit them.

Stipp said arriving in court for the first time was "terrifying" but the anticipation was worse than the reality.

Particularly harrowing for Stipp was Roux's presentation in court of his heads of argument earlier this month, in which he described the testimonies of Stipp and her husband as "exaggerated and contradictory ... creates doubt as to [their] reliability".

"You feel you are being attacked personally. Your integrity is questioned. We felt that [we] were being attacked as [liars]," Stipp told Tewson.

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Sat Sep 20 07:56:17 SAST 2014 ::
The message from this trial to potential witnesses is clear: see nothing; hear nothing. If this is what they might have to go through in court, I suspect many witnesses will just keep quiet in future.