Detective Botha 'dropped' from Oscar Pistorius murder case
Does revelation that police officer faces trial for attempted murder improve athlete's bail chances?
EDITOR'S NOTE, 3.20PM: Since this story was published the South African police service has confirmed that Hilton Botha is to be replaced as lead police officer in the Oscar Pistorius case. Police Commissioner Mangwashi Phiyega made the announcement after the third day of the bail hearing ended.
THE SOUTH AFRICAN police detective leading the Reeva Steenkamp murder investigation has been dramatically dropped from the case, according to latest reports, following the revelation that he is himself facing trial for attempted murder.
It emerged earlier today that Detective Hilton Botha, who has argued strongly that Oscar Pistorius is guilty of premeditated murder and should not be given bail, is himself facing seven counts of attempted murder.
He and three other officers were arrested in 2011 for allegedly opening fire from a police car on a minicab taxi containing seven people. The officers were said to be drunk.
The charges were initially withdrawn by the South African Director of Public Prosecutions but it transpires that on 4 February the charges were reinstated and a trial was set for May. (It was widely reported earlier today that the decision was taken yesterday, 20 February, but Alex Eliseev, the Eyewitness News reporter who broke the story of Botha's charges, now says it happened on 4 February.)
Police spokesman Brigadier Neville Malila confirmed: "There was a decision taken by the DPP's office to charge the members, each one of them with seven counts of attempted murder. That was the number of people that were in the taxi."
Malila indicated that the revelation would have no effect on Botha leading the case against Pistorius. "The member is innocent until proven guilty. The member was chosen by the station to do the investigation due to the fact that he is a senior," he was quoted as saying by Eyewitness News.
But The Times reports that Botha was later dropped from the case, just as Pistorius was awaiting the opening of today's court session at 9 am UK time.
There is speculation that the Botha disclosure will help Pistorius's case for being allowed out on bail until his murder trial starts later this year.
Yesterday, Botha was humiliated in court when, having declared that he was certain the killing of Reeva Steenkamp was premeditated, he was forced to admit that he had no evidence to contradict Pistorius's story that he accidentally shot his model girlfriend, thinking that she was an intruder.