Private security firm ‘involved’ in deadly Cato Manor gunfight

22 November 2015 - 02:00 By Stephan Hofstatter and Mzilikazi wa Afrika

On one mission in January 2009, the Cato Manor officers intercepted a gang of eight suspects on their way to rob the Spar supermarket in Pietermaritzburg.

Five would-be robbers were killed in the shootout that followed.

The Cato Manor detectives threw a booze-fuelled braai after the deadly gunfight.

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Three key members of KwaZulu-Natal Hawks head Major-General Johan Booysen’s inner circle — Paul “Mossie” Mostert, Anton Lockem and Eugene van Tonder — attended the party with others, some of whom were still wearing the clothes they had on during the shootout.

In 2011, the Sunday Times published a photograph on the front page of the officers brandishing their service pistols in front of a table strewn with bottles of beer, rum and coke.

Party pictures show the men consuming liquor and appearing drunk. This is against police regulations, which state that a service pistol must be holstered at all times and cannot be handled under the influence of liquor.

What has never been revealed is that the shootout was a joint operation between the Cato Manor squad and a security company contracted by supermarket chain Spar.

A report to Robert Philipson, managing director of Spar’s KwaZulu-Natal division, reveals that the security officials planned the mission jointly with the Cato Manor squad and took part in the shootout.

The report identifies some of the dead suspects as members of a gang who’d robbed Berea Spar in September 2008.

The owner of a Spar outlet also supplied meat and booze for the after party, although he claimed afterwards that the timing had been coincidental.

Philipson said this week that the security company helped the police “to protect our stores, customers and staff from the scourge of armed robberies that are plaguing our industry”.

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He said Spar would not condone “any illegal activities” by the security company or police investigating the company’s complaints. “Should this be the case, we will act accordingly.”

To date, Spar’s involvement with the security company and its relationship with the police “has been professional and has not only resulted in criminals being apprehended and prosecuted, but it has also allowed us to prevent armed robberies from being committed [and] to protect our customers, staff and owners from harm”.

Investigators later cast doubt on the Cato Manor squad’s version of the January 2009 shootout.

A ballistics expert pointed out that empty high-calibre cartridges were found near the suspects, suggesting they were shot at close range. In one case, a firearm “was placed on top of the blood” from a dead suspect, suggesting “tampering with the crime scene”.

Booysen took no action against his men until the Sunday Times published the photograph.

A review of his “investigation” dismissed it as a cover-up. The investigator completed it the same day Booysen appointed him and concluded only one officer should be “verbally warned and sensitised” for brandishing a weapon at a booze-fuelled party.

Booysen’s investigation was “vague, shallow and selective” and has “hallmarks of a cover up”, the review concluded.

Booysen, Lockem, Mostert and Van Tonder declined to be interviewed for this story.

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