Day 10: Oscar Pistorius murder trial

Two of Oscar Pistorius’ expensive watches went missing from the his home after Reeva Steenkamp was killed, his murder trial heard.
The court was told how police forensics teams may have botched evidence by slapdash handling of key exhibits, including the 9mm Parabellum pistol the athlete used to shoot his model girlfriend being picked up by a ballistics expert without gloves.

The lavatory door through which he shot her was removed from the scene to stop police selling photographs to the media, and transported back to the station in a large body bag, it also emerged.

The latest revelations came after the court was shown the first photographs of Pistorius at the crime scene, bare-chested and wearing shorts soaked in blood, with more blood smeared on his arms and legs.

Visibly pallid and shell-shocked, he stares directly at the camera. More close-up pictures showed the lavatory where Steenkamp was shot, its bowl, seat and sides covered in blood.

The pictures were displayed in court as part of a series taken accompanying the evidence of Col SG van Rensburg, the local station commander who was among the first on the scene.

Col Van Rensburg was giving evidence on Day 10 of the sensational Pistorius murder trial at Pretoria High Court. The State says the 27-year-old sprinter murdered Steenkamp intentionally after the couple argued. He contends he shot her four times thinking she was an intruder.

Col van Rensburg said he had warned the paralympian that because of his celebrity, his home in a Pretoria security estate might be mined for “memorabilia”.

But he conceded he was “furious” when watches worth between £2,800 and £5,600 went missing within hours of police arriving on St Valentine’s Day last year.

Col van Rensburg, who left his job under a cloud shortly after the high-profile killing, said he had asked a police photographer to “keep an eye” on the case of eight watches on a cabinet in Pistorius’s bedroom.

“I told myself those watches were tempting,” he said. “Any other person would see they are expensive.”

He said he was astonished when another officer came to him to say at least one was missing.

“The value was between fifty and a hundred thousand rand (£2,800 and £5,600),” he said. “I said but I can’t believe it, we were just there. How can this watch be gone?” He summoned all the policemen in the house and searched their bags and cars but found nothing, he told the court.

Barry Roux, Pistorius’s defence barrister, said that two watches had been stolen and were never found.

Col van Rensburg said he was further horrified to see a ballistics expert pick up and cock the suspected murder weapon without protective gloves.

“I asked him: 'What are you doing?’,” he said. “He turned his head to me and then looked and realised there was no hand gloves. He said sorry and put the magazine back in the firearm and he put it back on the carpet.”

He said he decided to remove the lavatory door the day after the shooting because it was “our most valuable evidence” and journalists were already offering up to £3,000 for pictures.

The door was put in a large body bag and transported to the local police station. “I know people will ask”, Col van Rensburg said, why he kept the door in his own office rather than the evidence lock-up.

He explained that he could not trust his colleagues not to “tamper” with it, and his office only had one key.

Dr David Klatzow, one of South Africa’s leading forensic scientists, said such police blunders could result in the case being thrown out.

“More people get acquitted in this country because of police incompetence than because of proof of innocence,” he said. “These are just elementary mistakes.”

But a member of the prosecution team dismissed the reference to police blunders as “dust” being kicked up by Pistorius’s defence. “If you don’t have hay fever, you don’t sneeze,” he told The Telegraph.
The case continues.

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