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Crime experts weigh in on why police should or should not share information on AKA murder investigation

Crime experts believe police are well within their rights not to divulge information on the ongoing investigation into the murders of South African award winning artist, Kiernan “AKA” Forbes and celebrity chef, Tebello “Tibz” Motsoane.

However, they believe police should be able to effectively communicate updates in a way that will not jeopardise the case or place undue pressure on the investigating team.

IOL spoke to KwaZulu-Natal violence monitor, Mary de Haas and head of the justice and violence prevention programme at the Institute for Security Studies, Gareth Newham, to find out their views after police have rubbished apparent updates in the case.

This week, police sources claimed that a firearm, used in the murders, had been found in Umlazi, south of Durban, and a suspect arrested.

IOL reported that ballistics have confirmed that the 9mm pistol was positively linked to the shooting incident that claimed the lives of the two men. However, according to another source, the gun was for hire.

Provincial police spokesperson, Colonel Robert Netshiunda, squashed the allegations and slammed “some media houses, who clearly seem hell-bent to botch any police endeavours in finding the killers and bring justice to the families of the victims”.

He appealed to the media to respect the process of investigation and refrain from publishing unfounded allegations.

According to Newham, with regard to the criminal justice process, it does not really matter what gets reported in the media.

He said what ultimately matters is the strength of the evidence presented before the judge or magistrate in the criminal trial.

Newham said police will not want to comment on evidence being collected during the investigation stage as what they say may later be used against the prosecution in the trial.

“For example, if they say publicly that they think that they have the weapon involved in a particular crime, and ballistics later show the weapon was not used in the crime, the defence may later use this to say that they had already made up their mind about the guilt of a criminally accused and that therefore they were not investigating properly,” he said.

“It is better to keep quiet about the evidence and let it speak for itself during the trial. Also, it can be distracting for the investigators to have to keep responding to media inquiries while they should be focused on ensuring that the quality of their investigation will not be found wanting in court.”

He said this does not mean that the police must not be mindful about how they communicate to the public.

“If there is a lot of public interest in a particular case that they are investigating, they should have a strategy about how to communicate what they are doing without compromising the investigation or putting undue pressure on the investigators,” Newham said.

“This could include correcting misinformation that may be in the public domain about the case that could undermine their investigation. For example, that may prevent potential witnesses from coming forward with further information or evidence.”

De Haas told IOL that it is impossible to determine whether the leaks impact the case because no one knows how true they are.

“If the leaks have any truth it could jeopardise the case as those with information could be killed or disappear because they fear for their lives,” she said.

De Haas spoke about why dispelling the “breakthroughs in the case”, police could be trying to convince the media and public that they are on top of the case. “So often with criminal investigations there is a lot of hype about arrests being made only for cases to be withdrawn.”

She said it is dangerous for police to reveal too much before they are certain the evidence can stand in court.

IOL

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