Ford's lawyers grilled at inquest into fiery death of Kuga owner
During a bruising battle to have the inquest into the death of Ford Kuga owner Reshall Jimmy delayed, the auto manufacturing giant's lawyers were grilled at the high court in Cape Town on Monday.
Advocate Andre Bezuidenhout - along with state prosecutor Anthony Stephen - came under fire from both the legal team representing Jimmy's family and judge Robert Henney.
The blitz included accusations of collusion between Bezuidenhout and Stephen to exclude Jimmy's legal representative, advocate Gerrie Nel, from the inquest, along with crucial documents being withheld.
The documents include reports by forensic investigators hired by Ford to investigate the cause of a fire which killed Jimmy while he was driving his Kuga SUV.
The inquest, which began exactly three years and two months to the day after Jimmy's death, was postponed just hours after it began.
Jimmy burnt to death while he was on holiday in Wilderness in the Western Cape on December 4 2015.
Since his death, more than 80 Kugas have caught alight on the country's roads with Ford recalling more than 4,000 vehicles for several safety-related reasons.
The latest Kuga fire occurred outside East London on Friday.
Stephen and Bezuidenhout both argued for a postponement, with Bezuidenhout accusing the police of making a litany of mistakes in their investigation, including allowing evidence to go missing from the police docket and from evidence-storage facilities.
"We have 14 witnesses whose statements have not been taken. People who heard explosions, gunshots and who saw people running away from Jimmy's car and speeding off in a pick-up [bakkie]," he said.
"We have accusations of Jimmy being in an altercation at the Mossel Bay casino. There were casino chips which were found next to his car, a rifle 'doppie' [bullet casing]. There is crucial evidence which should have been obtained which was not. We have evidence which has simply vanished from the docket.
"Our investigator, who is internationally recognised, was able to spot these mistakes right from the moment he had sight of the docket," argued Bezuidenhout, who demanded that financial statements, cellphone records, casino CCTV footage and health reports relating to Jimmy's movements be released to Ford's lawyers.
Nel hit back, accusing Ford and the state of deliberately cutting Jimmy's family out of the inquest.
"One needs to remember that the family in an inquest is always the victim, and remain the victim until answers are obtained as to what happened to their loved ones.
"But, not in this inquest. In this case all Stephen has been doing is paying lip service to the victims."
Nel argued that while prosecutors had the docket for years, even after the police investigation was complete, they had never indicated that they needed anything else for the investigation to be completed.
"Neither the family nor the police want a postponement of this inquest. The decision to postpone this inquest was taken without even informing the family. It was based on Ford's request, which we find very peculiar.
"Ford, in a meeting which I sat in, indicated that they had very deep pockets and would litigate to the fullest."
Nel, who rubbished Ford's private investigator's statement against the way the police investigation was conducted, said the affidavit had been specially crafted to belittle the investigating officer, "to show that he was lying".
"Stephen, when we asked why he did not consult us on his intention to postpone the matter, said it was his discretion to consult with whoever he wanted to," said Nel.
"This was five days after he had come to us asking if there was anything that he could assist us with in preparing for the inquest."
Nel said Ford wanted the inquest to deal with rumours.
"That's rumours of gunshots and explosions, instead of dealing with the facts. A statement taken by Ford's private investigator was from a woman who heard her son-in-law say that four people were seen attacking Jimmy's car. Yet the son-in-law has denied ever seeing such a thing."
Judge Henney, responding to Nel's arguments, said he found what he was being told concerning.
Dressing down Bezuidenhout and Stephen - who dismissed Nel's accusations - the judge, in postponing the inquest, said: "I don't want any loose ends by the time this inquest begins. I don't want any more skeletons coming out of the closet."
Tackling Bezuidenhout, who told the court that Ford's forensic expert report could not be released because of confidentiality clauses, Henney gave the company until Friday to hand it over.
"If it is not, I will subpoena it under my powers under the Criminal Procedures Act. There is no question of privilege. If a report is to be relied on by Ford, which the company has, it must be shared with all parties. If it is not shared it will not be considered. This goes for all reports," said the judge.
"There is lots of nonsense emerging with witnesses, statements and so-called evidence emerging.
"The additional police officers, assigned to the investigating team, must go and take statements from those at the casino and those statements must be tested in court.
"Only then will I consider the application of a subpoena of the CCTV footage."
The inquest was postponed to March 18, when Henney ordered that evidence be led.