Shrien Dewani: police accused of 'negligence' over gun tests

Shrien Dewani at murder trial

Defence questions ballistics expert's credibility after gun test footage is shown at trial of Shrien Dewani

LAST UPDATED AT 14:30 ON Wed 22 Oct 2014

A police ballistics expert was accused of "negligence" today in the trial of honeymoon murder suspect Shrien Dewani. Warrant officer Pieter Engelbrecht has been testifying about the trajectory of the shot that killed Shrien's wife Anni Dewani on 13 November 2010 when the couple's car was hijacked during their honeymoon in Cape Town. But the defence team called Engelbrecht's credibility into question and said he was "miles away from being an objective expert witness". 

Yesterday, the defence claimed it had medical notes to show that Anni had visited a doctor in the days before she died to tell him she was trying to conceive. Defence lawyer Francois Van Zyl said that this "flies in the face" of evidence given by Anni's cousin Sneha Mashru, who claimed Anni had been talking about a divorce.

Here is what we have heard today:

2.00pm: Warrant officer Pieter Engelbrecht, a ballistics expert, has been giving evidence. The taxi car seat and video footage of ballistics tests have also been shown in court. Englebrecht told the judge that he has been involved in the Dewani case since November 2012, when he was asked to retest exhibits for the Xolile Mngeni trial, including the gun, cartridge and bullet. Mngeni, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison for firing the shot that killed Anni, died of a brain tumour on Saturday.

The trajectory of the bullet, the single entrance wound and exit wound on Anni's neck and a hole in the back seat-rest suggests the shot was fired from the front left of the car, said Englebrecht. He said Anni, who was sitting in the back, must have "moved or leaned" to her right before the shot was fired. 

But in cross examination Shrien's lawyer, Van Zyl, criticised the police for their "negligent" reconstruction of the shooting. The analysis was carried out in a test car, not the actual taxi in which Anni was killed, and the position of the seats in the reconstruction was different from that on the night of the murder. Engelbrecht also admitted he had not measured Mngeni's arms until last week. Van Zyl accused him of being "miles away from being an objective expert witness". 


Shrien Dewani's behaviour was 'strange', claim witnesses

21 October

Two witnesses have accused honeymoon murder suspect Shrien Dewani of acting strangely after he and his wife had their taxi hijacked in Cape Town. Shrien claims he was forced out of the car on 13 November 2010. His wife Anni was later found shot dead. Anni's cousin Sneha Mashru has told the court that she became suspicious of Dewani in the weeks after the shooting, while a police sergeant, who took Shrien back to his hotel on the night of the murder, has also questioned his behaviour.

Here is what we have heard so far today at Western Cape High Court:

11.30am: South African Police Service Sergeant Cornelius Jacobus Mellet has taken the witness stand. He was with Dewani following the hijacking. He also says Shrien told him that Anni had wanted to see the township nightlife. Mellet said that as a married man himself, he found it "strange" that Dewani did not ask "what the police, in their power, were doing to find his wife". Shrien "looked tense and was sweating", said the witness. 

11.00am: Anni's cousin Sneha Mashru returns to the witness stand. She is asked how she expected Shrien to behave while tending to Anni's body. "I wanted to see the sadness, the grieving, the love," she says. Defence lawyer Van Zyl says Shrien admits that he is a "calculated perfectionist". He notes that his client spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on renovations for his home for Anni and had bought her around 100 saris.

10.00am: Anni's cousin Sneha Mashru is back in the witness stand this morning. She claims Anni and Shrien were pretending to be happy at their wedding. "Her exact words to me were: 'Sneha, do we look happy together? Because we have decided to act for the wedding.'" She told the court that Anni had said they were having problems in the bedroom. 

Mashru said Shrien spoke to her on the phone from South Africa before Anni's death and told her that Anni wanted to see the townships in Cape Town. Defence lawyer Francois Van Zyl asks why Mashru did not tell the police this in her statement. He notes that she also did not tell police that Shrien later told her that Anni had been shot because she was screaming. Mashru said that had not been her focus at the time.

Mashru returns to what she describes as Shrien's "strange" behaviour after Anni's death. Shrien apparently became angry when she asked if he should consult Anni's father about some of the funeral arrangements. "I am the husband. I make the decisions," he allegedly told her. The court adjourns as Mashru breaks down in tears recalling Anni's body before the funeral.


Shrien Dewani trial resumes after killer's death in prison

20 October

The trial of honeymoon murder suspect Shrien Dewani has resumed today after one of his wife's killers died in prison over the weekend.

Anni Dewani was shot on 13 November 2010 after the couple's car was hijacked during their honeymoon in Cape Town.

Xolile Mngeni, who was serving a 25-year prison sentence for firing the shot that killed Anni, died in the hospital wing of Goodwood Prison in Cape Town on Saturday. He was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour soon after his arrest in 2011.

The National Prosecuting Authority has said Mngeni's death will not have an impact on the murder trial.

It was unclear if the prosecution had planned to call Mngeni to testify against Dewani, who is accused of organising his wife's murder. Franaaz Khan, a law lecturer from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, previously said that the other two men involved in the killing – Zola Tongo and Mziwamadoda Qwabe – were more likely to be relied upon as witnesses.

They both pleaded guilty and agreed to be state witnesses as part of their plea bargain, whereas Mngeni denied his guilt.

Qwabe gave evidence last week, but the trial was subsequently postponed because one of the prosecution lawyers had chicken pox.

The court has today heard from The Sun journalist Nick Parker and Anni's cousin Sneha Mashru.

Here is what we have heard so far:

2.30pm: Anni Dewani's cousin Sneha Mashru is giving evidence. She has told the Cape Town court that Anni was thinking of divorcing Shrien just days before she was killed. Mashru claims Anni was texting her from South Africa during her honeymoon, saying: "What should I do? I am really trying...." On 11 November, two days before she died, things appeared to improve. Anni text her cousin saying: "Hi, it's much better now. Going better than before. Hate the word divorce." That was the last time the cousins were in contact.

Mashru also said Shrien and Anni rarely saw each other while they were engaged and that, in her view, Shrien acted strangely after his wife was killed. Mashru told the court that Shrien had all the funeral arrangements on a spreadsheet. "He also said: 'Do not ever repeat this to anyone else. The reason why Anni was shot was because she was screaming,'" she said. "He said had she not been screaming, she wouldn't have been shot." 

In the days before the funeral, Mashru said she went to the funeral parlour to dress Anni and do her make-up. "Shrien's mum and aunt were there," she told the court. "He was treating the body, not with love. He was squeezing the bangles. She was swollen. I said: 'Stop, you're hurting her.' 

Mashru made a secret recording of a meeting held to clear the air between her family and the Dewanis after Anni's death. In the transcript, Shrien makes no mention of his meeting with Tongo, the taxi driver, who was later convicted for his part in organising Anni's murder, nor the money that Shrien later claimed he gave to Tongo because he "felt sorry for him". On cross-examination, Mashru says it was not an arranged marriage and that Anni did in fact love Shrien.

10.30am: The Sun reporter Nick Parker, who has been a journalist for 26 years, is testifying. He interviewed Shrien Dewani in Max Clifford's offices after Anni's death. A copy of the interview has been handed to the court. Parker says Shrien was "reasonably calm" at the beginning but became quite distressed as the interview progressed. Shrien said Anni wanted to see African nightlife and had wanted to do an African dance at a family member's baby shower, Parker tells the court

In December 2010, Parker also interviewed Leopold Leisser, a gay escort who claimed Shrien had paid him for sex and was desperate to get out of his marriage. Parker put the claims to Clifford, who was Shrien's publicist at the time. Shrien's solicitors responded that Leisser had invented the story and that their client was at the gym or with his family at the times specified. Shrien's defence lawyer Francois Van Zyl tells the court that the solicitors' letter was written on the instructions of Shrien's brother Preyen. He suggests that Leisser was paid £30,000 for the story. Parker says he cannot recall.

Sneha Mashru, Anni's cousin, takes the witness stand. She tells the court that she and Anni grew up together and were more like sisters than cousins. "She confided in me and told me things she wouldn't tell her sister/brother," she says.


Shrien Dewani: five key quotes from the murder trial so far

17 October

The trial of honeymoon murder suspect Shrien Dewani began with a surprise statement about his sexuality and has been punctuated by dramatic moments ever since. It has taken four years to get the British millionaire into court for the trial, following a long extradition process from the UK to South Africa. His wife Anni Dewani was shot dead on 13 November 2010 after the couple were driven in a taxi through a township near Cape Town during their honeymoon. Shrien is accused of ordering the murder. Three South African men – Zola Tongo, Mziwamadoda Qwabe and Xolile Mngeni – have already been convicted in relation to her death. Shrien has pleaded not guilty to the five charges against him, which include murder, kidnapping and obstructing justice.

With the trial due to resume on Monday, here are five key quotes so far:

Shrien Dewani: "I have had sexual interaction with both males and females"

On the very first day of the trial Shrien admitted that he considered himself bisexual. Rumours of his "secret homosexuality" had circulated since just after Anni's death, but he had always denied them. In a statement, read out by his lawyer Francois Van Zyl, he said his sexual interactions with men were "mostly physical experiences" or email chats with people he met online or in clubs and included prostitutes. The admission appears to have taken the sting out the state's case, which was expected to argue that Shrien was gay and plotted to have his wife killed to escape his marriage.

Mziwamadoda Qwabe: "There was a husband who wanted his wife killed"

Qwabe, who is currently serving 25 years in prison for Anni's murder, is seen as a key witness in the trial. He told the court that a price of 15,000 rand, just £834 at today's exchange rate, was agreed to kill her. Asked if he knew ahead of the murder that Dewani wanted her dead, Qwabe said he was told "there was a husband who wanted his wife killed". The two other convicts, Qwabe's associate Mngeni and the Dewanis' taxi driver Tongo, may also give evidence against Shrien.

Shrien Dewani: "I really do love you... I want to be with you forever"

At the beginning of the trial Van Zyl read out a letter from Shrien to Anni, written after an "angry disagreement" on 24 May 2010. Taken at face value, the letter suggests Shrien was in love with his wife, despite the fact that he admits they argued frequently. It conflicts with claims by Leopold Leisser, a male escort based in the UK, who said Shrien was "desperate" to get out of his marriage. Sneha Mashru, Anni's cousin, also reportedly told British police that they had a troubled relationship. It is possible that Leisser and Mashru will be called to testify for the state.

Francois Van Zyl: "It has all the hallmarks of a shot that went off when it wasn't meant to go off"

In a surprise move, Shrien's defence lawyer cast doubt on the belief that Qwabe's associate Mngeni was the one to shoot Anni. Van Zyl said that gunpowder found on Qwabe's gloves suggested it was him who murdered Anni. "The injuries caused by that bullet are not what the pathologists would normally see in an execution-type killing," said Van Zyl. The lawyer suggested that Qwabe killed Anni by accident as he tried to pull her out of the car, possibly to rape her in the scrubland. This would provide a very different explanation for Anni's death to the one put forward by the state. Qwabe denied Van Zyl's claims.

Judge Jeanette Traverso: "Why is his sexuality relevant?"

On Tuesday, the judge stopped the prosecution from reading out a series of sexually graphic emails from Shrien to a mystery third person. Prosecutor Adrian Mopp tried to argue that they were relevant because they showed Shrien was conflicted about whether to get married or to come out as gay. "Obviously it is not a motive to kill but the man expresses a conflict within himself," Mopp told the judge. But Traverso said that, because of Dewani's admission, his sexuality was no longer in dispute and ruled the evidence inadmissible. This came as a shock to the prosecutors, who will potentially have to rethink who they call as witnesses.


More about Shrien Dewani:

Graphic emails barred by court in blow for stateShrien Dewani reveals he is bisexual on first day of murder trialShrien Dewani described himself as 'perverted' on GaydarShrien Dewani reveals he is bisexual on first day of murder trial Shrien Dewani: what we know about the honeymoon murder caseMurder suspect loses bid to block extradition Shrien Dewani family welcome 'significant' Panorama findings


For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.