Gerrie Nel and Ford bump heads at Kuga fire inquest
The heat is on at the Ford Kuga fire inquest in the high court in Cape Town, where accusations of withholding evidence flew on Monday.
Ford’s legal team accused private prosecutor Gerrie Nel of withholding photographic evidence from them - but Nel made the same allegation against the company.
Nel, representing the family of Reshall Jimmy who died when his Kuga luxury SUV caught fire in December 2015, said on Monday that he had instructed the private forensic investigator hired by the family not to hand over the photos he took from the scene until Ford had led evidence about their investigation in court.
Nel also accused Ford’s principal forensic investigator, John Loud, of lying when he said that he had made all his photographic evidence available to Nel’s team.
It turned out that the flash disks containing thousands of photos and which were handed over to Nel’s legal team were apparently password protected, a point which Nel insinuated was evidence of Ford’s attitude.
Waving around two flash disks, he exclaimed: “It’s password protected, no-one can read this. This is how things are done here…”
In exchange, Ford’s defence counsel, André Bezuidenhout, accused Nel of withholding evidence despite being served with a notice to hand over all evidence they had about the fire.
“The attitude of Mr Nel was that they refused to hand over the photos… This is not a cat-and-mouse game, this is an inquiry in the high court,” said Bezuidenhout.
From the start of the proceedings on Monday, Nel displayed an attacking posture. At the outset of evidence being led by Loud, who came from the US to testify, he objected to any evidence being led about findings made by any other investigators if they were not going to come and testify.
Explaining why he instructed private forensic investigator Daniel Joubert not to hand over his photos to Ford, Nel said: “I have instructed Mr Joubert not to hand over those photos until today and I will in due course show the court why."
Jimmy’s Kuga caught fire while he was on holiday in Wilderness on December 15 2015 near the Fairy Knowe Hotel. Joubert claimed that the fire was caused by an electrical fault in the vehicle.
Loud, with 23 years’ experience at Exponent Incorporated, which he described as the “pre-eminent” forensic investigations firm globally, trashed Joubert’s report claiming it was unscientific.
Instead, he found that the cause of the fire was non-conclusive, and he pointed to several sources which could have caused the fire including a “barbeque lighter” which he said was found at the footwell of the driver’s seat, a cell phone which was plugged into the car’s electronic console, a “vaping device”, and a tracker.
But he ruled out the “body control mechanism”, a system of fuse boxes and wires, which Joubert claimed the electrical fault had originated from.
Since this incident more than 80 Ford Kuga Eco Boost SUV’s have caught fire in South Africa which resulted in a recall of both South Africa’s fleet of 4‚000 Kuga’s for a series of safety fixes, and former Ford South Africa CEO Jeff Nemeth.
Jimmy’s service history showed that he had complained of several electrical problems including sporadic loss of power. This, said Loud, seemed to have been fixed with a software update.
Nel is expected to start his cross-examination of Loud on Tuesday.