Lorenzo Afrika, a responder for Thorburn security who came on duty the evening before the gruesome murders of the Van Breda family were alleged to have taken place, was cross-examined all day today on Day 5 of the trial in the Western Cape High Court.
Highbury Media’s legal expert Tracey Stewart was back, and here’s her take on the day as it unfolded.
Another fascinating day for one of the most-followed cases of the year. What started off as a frustrating amount of security detail that the defence is asking to lay ground work on for future evidence, turned into compelling new revelations as the day unfolded.
Advocate Combrink is a man with almost 18 years experience under his belt, and his cross-examination was at first focused on an extraordinary amount of detail about the security of the perimeter fencing and the numerous possibilities that someone may have been able to enter or exit the estate without being detected. This detail had to be put to Afrika in an understandable way – although he could not deal with many of the technical aspects of it due to his position as a responder. But in order for the defence to later lead evidence on this detail, they need to have put their version to the state’s witnesses. So as banal as this seemed to everyone in court today, it had to be done.
Afrika is an important witness in the security discussion. He is the man on the ground, who works with the alarms, fences, patrols and checks every single day. He is also a strong witness, who kept cool, calm and professional throughout the cross-examination.
Now, what I initially took from the detail the defence dealt with, is that they will rely heavily on a perimeter breach which could have happened and been undetected through an alarm. That was my thinking until shortly before lunch, when Advocate Combrink proceeded to hand a Thorburn Security report to the court’s record and began reading portions of it to Afrika.
The report stated that, on at least 3 occasions on the morning of January 27th 2015 (the state has alleged that the incidents took place at approximately 2 am on the morning of 27 January 2015), there had in fact been peculiar alarm activations, one at 01:36 and another around 4 am.
— Tracey Stewart (@Traceyams) May 3, 2017
This is exactly the type of evidence which may have derailed another witness, but Afrika calmly stated that he was not notified of any alarm activations that night.
Other noteworthy points read out of the report by Adv. Combrink
- There had been several out of the ordinary alarm activations that week (From Monday 26 January 2015 to Thursday 29 January 2017);
- On the afternoon prior to the murders, 26 January 2015, there had been an alarm activation triggered by a disconnected AC Power outlet.
In response, Afrika simply stated that he wasn’t on duty the afternoon of 26 January 2015, as he had only come on duty at 6 pm and therefore cannot comment on an alarm activation which took place when he was off duty. When he came on duty he carried out his patrol where he travelled to the various checkout points he needed to check on. He carried out 5 patrols that night, and 3 were what he termed bloodhound* patrols – a term that eventually came into question – and the others being check* patrols.
The alleged alarm activations referred to in the Thorburn report are hugely in favour of the defence. They tie in perfectly with the timeline in the plea explanation, so when considering these, we have to be careful not to place any weight on these reports until they have been tested. By this I mean that the author of these reports is the only person who can lead that evidence into court – it is not yet evidence before the court. After that evidence is provided, it must be tested through cross-examination.
Advocate Combrink made a point of saying to Afrika that he was ultimately reliant on whatever information was conveyed to him by the control room regarding alarm activations but Afrika kept repeating it, “I would have been informed, both patrol guards on duty are informed of an alarm activation.”
— Tracey Stewart (@Traceyams) May 3, 2017
In my view, Afrika made a strong witness because he didn’t try to answer questions he didn’t know the answer to, nor did he try and give any views on any subject matter he didn’t personally deal with, something witnesses very often do without realizing the path it may take them on. For that reason, Afrika’s evidence should hold decent weight with Judge Desai. And due to this, I am not sure how much more weight should be applied to an expert who may lead technical evidence on faulty fences.
Perhaps that is why the defence started to rely on the security report and alleged alarm activation of that night. I think it is safe to assume that unless the defence can lead compelling evidence to the contrary Judge Desai is going to accept Afrika’s version regarding how secure that fence was that night.
Tomorrow we look forward to meeting a new state witness, witness number 3. We believe it will be another security guard but cannot confirm until the state calls them.
— EWN Reporter (@ewnreporter) May 3, 2017
Plenty of food for thought from Day 5 at the Van Breda trial. As this all sinks in, we’re left with several questions.
What else is in the security report?
Will the author’s version withstand cross-examination?
Why was the defence so persistent on perimeter security detail and focused on breaches which wouldn’t activate an alarm, if there is a report which states alarms were activated?
The security report doesn’t mention anything about “bloodhound” checks a term which Afrika referred to continuously. It’s probably safe to accept that this is a term which plays a big role in his position. Perhaps this means that the report was completed by someone who has sat in a control room and never physically patrolled a perimeter himself? If that is the case then Afrika’s testimony took the state 10 steps forward, today.
* Bloodhound patrols describes when Afrika had to drive around the perimeter fencing and physically get out of his vehicle to tag into high-risk points. Bloodhound patrols were only conducted at night.
*Check patrols describe how Afrika would select 15 zones to drive to around the estate and the route he drove to do these checks was not consistent. So as far as the checks are concerned, he cannot confirm exactly where he checked that night but given his knowledge of the security in that estate, his testimony would indicate that the perimeter was secure and there were no holes or floods or any areas which would have been breached without an alarm activation.