A burly policeman kitted out in an orange prison jumpsuit and a broom attempted to snoop on murder accused Christopher Panayiotou and his mistress at the North End prison – but the sly move flopped because the spy camera attached to the jumpsuit was pointing up instead of at them.
The exercise – which saw the policeman sweep the floor close to where the two chatted – emerged in court yesterday as one of the weirdest things the defence had ever heard.
The packed Port Elizabeth High Court also heard how self-confessed middleman Luthando Siyoni, 37, embarked on a hunger strike in September last year due to poisoning fears.
Earlier, investigating officer Captain Kanna Swanepoel took the stand for the first time to explain how Siyoni became part of a sting operation which ultimately led to Panayiotou’s arrest for the murder of his wife, pretty Uitenhage school teacher Jayde, 29.
The flood of information was led by the state in a trial-within-a-trial dealing with the admissibility of the sting video in which the Port Elizabeth businessman allegedly implicated himself.
Although much of the state’s actions to date have angered the defence, Advocate Terry Price SC said the latest move to film the meetings between Panayiotou, 30, and Chanelle Coutts took the cake.
Sergeant Armien Humphries said Swanepoel had sent him to the prison to spy on Panayiotou while he received a visit from Coutts, who worked at the family’s OK Grocer in Algoa Park, which has since been sold.
Humphries’ job was to get close enough to the pair so that a camera attached to his jumpsuit could film the meeting. But the exercise proved fruitless. “The camera was attached [incorrectly]. It was facing up and it didn’t record anything,” Humpries said.
Price responded: “So, in other words, the exercise was pointless?” “Yes,” Humphries said. Judge Dayalin Chetty turned down the defence team’s application last year to consult with Coutts, who has been placed on the state witness list. Price said yesterday it was no secret that Coutts regularly visited Panayiotou, who has been behind bars for almost two years.
Humphries and then Humewood station commander Brigadier Ronald Koll also testified that, in September, while in protective custody at the Humewood police station holding cells, Siyoni went on a hunger strike because he feared the food he received there might be poisoned.
That same month, alleged hitman Sizwezakhe Vumazonke slipped into a coma and died amid fears expressed by the state that he had been poisoned in prison.
Humphries said Siyoni had also spoken about a relative being shot dead near his home.
Swanepoel, who became the investigating officer three days after Jayde was kidnapped and murdered on April 21 2015, spent the morning testifying about several phone calls made by Siyoni to Panayiotou on April 28.
He said he had done everything by the book and first asked a senior prosecutor in Grahamstown for advice.
Before Panayiotou was arrested, he spoke to two other state advocates.
“Panayiotou’s phone was answered six times,” Swanepoel said. “On one occasion, [a friend] Donovan Vosloo answered Panayiotou’s phone.
“Those conversations did not get very far. Basically, Panayiotou said he was too busy to speak to Siyoni now.”
The investigating team, having had no luck, took a break to allow Siyoni to eat and rest and for them to discuss a way forward. Siyoni then received four calls, which went to voicemail.
Two were from Panayiotou’s number and another number, unknown to them at that stage. The number was later linked to a phone seized from Panayiotou’s car.
“Those calls indicated an urgency to me so I arranged for Siyoni to be fetched from the Kabega Park police station,” Swanepoel said.
The plan started falling into place after Panayiotou finally spoke to Siyoni and agreed to a meeting, which eventually took place at the Engen garage in Algoa Park.
It was after viewing the video footage – and after Swanepoel consulted with two advocates – that he decided to arrest Panayiotou at his parents’ Uitenhage home.
“When asked if he needed an attorney, he responded that his family would decide,” Swanepoel said.
Swanepoel will be cross-examined tomorrow.