Estelle Ellis and Angela Gillham email@example.com
SIX years after Fred van der Vyver’s arrest for the brutal murder of his girlfriend, Port Elizabeth-born Inge Lotz, members of the family have spoken of their relief that their ordeal was almost over.
The Cape High Court found yesterday that the safety and security minister was liable for damages suffered by former Queenstown resident Van der Vyver as he was the victim of malicious prosecution.
Saying he was relieved and thankful, Van der Vyver was hesitant to discuss his victory, as the judgment did not mark the end of the road and he would not like to jeopardise his case.
Van der Vyver was arrested in 2005 after Lotz was found murdered in her Stellenbosch flat.
Yesterday, Judge Anton Veldhuizen ordered the state to pay all costs for the civil suit, including those for several foreign expert witnesses. The court decided only on the merits of the case and was not asked to decide the amount of damages the minister would have to pay Van der Vyver, who has claimed R46-million.
Unless a settlement is reached, the matter will have to return to court for a decision on the amount. The minister could also appeal against the court’s decision on the merits.
Van der Vyver’s father, Louis, a former tomato farmer from Queenstown who has since moved to East London, said the family was “elated but not surprised”.
“Based on the facts, we could not expect anything else. We still have the quantum case to go so it’s not the end of the road and because of this we are not at liberty to comment too much.”
Lotz’s mother, Juanita, said: “Whatever the outcome, nothing can change what we lost.
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“Nothing can change the grief and enormous pain we have felt over the past six years and five months,” she said.
Christian Botha, one of the private investigators hired by Van der Vyver to prove his innocence, welcomed the judgment.
“It’s a victory for justice in South Africa for the mere fact that an innocent man almost went to jail,” he said.
Media reports described emotional scenes in courtroom 17 yesterday as the Van der Vyver family clapped and choked back tears as judgment was handed down.
Van der Vyver’s advocate, Dup de Bruyn, who had tears welling in his eyes, said it had been a six-year “war”.
“We are tired but satisfied,” he said. “At long last justice is going to be done.”
Veldhuizen said Lotz’s body had been found on a bench in the lounge of her Stellenbosch apartment in March 2005. She had serious head injuries, inflicted with a blunt object, and stab wounds to her chest.
He said Van der Vyver, with whom she had had a serious romantic relationship, had been arrested for the murder three months later, and released on R10000 bail.
Van der Vyver was found not guilty by Judge Deon van Zyl after a trial that lasted nine months.
Van der Vyver did not sue the National Prosecuting Authority for prosecuting him, but the police, claiming they had used unlawful and intentional ways to convince prosecutors to agree to murder charges against him.
In his judgment, Veldhuizen said there were several contentious parts of the investigation which had led to his concluding that Van der Vyver had been the victim of a malicious prosecution.
Van der Vyver’s legal team produced expert evidence to discredit their evidence.
Veldhuizen labelled a police technician who had supplied a questionable fingerprint of Van der Vyver’s as “reckless and negligent” and a former police superintendent’s report on a bloody stain that supposedly matched Van der Vyver’s squash shoes as false and misleading.