Ques­tions raised over Roe­buck’s death

Fam­ily asks to re­open in­quest

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - MIKE BEHR

DID UK cricket jour­nal­ist Peter Roe­buck jump, or was he pushed from his ho­tel room in 2011?

A new book pub­lished in Aus­tralia, and about to be re­leased in South Africa, gets to grips with the man and his con­tro­ver­sial death as his frus­trated fam­ily and lawyers con­tinue to push to re­open a 2013 in­quest in the hope of fi­nally un­cov­er­ing the truth.

Four years ago this month, a day af­ter the first Test be­tween South Africa and Aus­tralia, the jour­nal­ist fell to his death from his sixth-floor New­lands ho­tel room.

In the days that fol­lowed, a shock­ing nar­ra­tive un­folded: Roe­buck, a con­tro­ver­sial but widely re­spected writer and com­men­ta­tor, had com­mit­ted sui­cide af­ter po­lice ar­rived at his Southern Sun ho­tel room to ar­rest him on sex­ual as­sault al­le­ga­tions.

With Roe­buck un­able to de­fend him­self, all po­lice had to go on was a hard-hit­ting wit­ness state­ment from his ac­cuser, Itai Gondo, a 26-yearold Zim­bab­wean IT stu­dent who worked as a bar­man to fund part-time stud­ies.

Gondo had ap­proached Roe­buck, whose other hat was phi­lan­thropist, a spon­sor of 17 Univer­sity of KwaZulu- Na­tal stu­dents liv­ing in his Pi­eter­mar­itzburg home.

In ad­di­tion to Gondo’s tes­ti­mony, po­lice also found a re­veal­ing Face­book con­ver­sa­tion – seen by the Week­end Ar­gus – which showed no inkling of Gondo try­ing to ex­tort money from Roe­buck, as later claimed by his supporters. In­stead, it dis­played a hu­mil­i­ated young­ster fu­ri­ously ter­mi­nat­ing all con­tact with Roe­buck, whom he ad­dressed as “Mr Molester”.

Later he also showed po­lice a text mes­sage he re­ceived while lay­ing a sex­ual as­sault charge. It was from one of Roe­buck’s stu­dents who tried to pla­cate the trau­ma­tised young­ster with the of­fer of a schol­ar­ship:

“I am sorry for ev­ery­thing Itai. i didnt kno it cld end lyk that. and i had spo­ken to him he feels the same. he will call you. beta we kip it to our­selves hes an in­ta­na­tional fig­ure.” (sic)

On the sur­face this might seem an open and shut case.

Cer­tainly the In­de­pen­dent Po­lice In­ves­tiga­tive Direc­torate be­lieves so. This week, their me­dia spokesman Rob­bie Rabu Rabu con­firmed that Ipid was in­volved in the pre­lim­i­nary in­ves­ti­ga­tion as Roe­buck had ef­fec­tively died in po­lice cus­tody. “It (the in­ves­ti­ga­tion) was sat­is­fied that the de­ceased jumped through the win­dow. Foul play was not sus­pected.”

The Fe­bru­ary 2013 in­quest that fol­lowed drew the same con­clu­sion.

But Roe­buck fam­ily at­tor­ney Ge­orge van Niek­erk, who helped Shrien De­wani gain an ac­quit­tal, con­firmed that he has been press­ing the Di­rec­tor of Pub­lic Pros­e­cu­tions for the past six months to re­open the in­quest. “The Roe­buck fam­ily were not no­ti­fied about the 2013 in­quest even though it’s re­quired by law, and even though they re­quested sev­eral times that they be in­formed. The re­sult is that they still have a num­ber of unan­swered ques­tions.”

Van Niek­erk did not want to elab­o­rate, but sources re­veal that the fam­ily is seek­ing ac­cess to foren­sic ev­i­dence taken from the ho­tel room, the po­lice tox­i­col­ogy re­port, and fin­ger­prints which they say will prove whether it was Roe­buck who opened the win­dow.

The fam­ily also want ac­cess to Roe­buck’s cell­phone, be­cause they claim that Face­book mes­sages be­tween him and Gondo were not found on his com­puter.

The fam­ily also ap­par­ently ques­tion whether the sig­nif­i­cant in­juries to his head were con­sis­tent with his fall, and why there were other of­fi­cers al­ready at the scene when Roe­buck died, in ad­di­tion to the two po­lice­men in the room.

The DPP de­lay re­mains a mystery. “Un­for­tu­nately we can­not com­mu­ni­cate any­thing to the me­dia or re­spond to any ques­tions re­gard­ing this mat­ter as we have been ap­proached... to re­open the in­quest,” said Eric Ntabazalila, NPA re­gional com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager.

But a re­li­able source be­lieves that the sex­ual as­sault docket, which ap­par­ently went miss­ing the day af­ter Roe­buck’s death, is stalling the new in­quest. The source be­lieves the rea­son could be a chaotic archiv­ing sys­tem at Clare­mont Po­lice Sta­tion.

Al­though it doesn’t pro­vide all the an­swers the Roe­bucks would like, Tim Lane and El­liot Cartledge’s Chas­ing Shad­ows: The Life and Death of Peter Roe­buck does pro­vide enough of a nar­ra­tive to keep the reader glued un­til the in­quest is re­opened.

“We draw a num­ber of con­clu­sions, but pur­posely steer away from judg­ing the man or his ac­cuser,” Cartledge said.

“Un­for­tu­nately, one of the con­clu­sions we draw is that it was a pre­ventable death. There was at least one po­lice­man in his ho­tel room when he went out of the win­dow.”

Part bi­og­ra­phy, part per­sonal re­flec­tion (co-au­thor Tim Lane worked with Roe­buck for over a decade) and part in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Chas­ing Shad­ows also in­cludes an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view with Gondo.

“Over the course of a lengthy in­ter­view he re­it­er­ated his version of events and it dif­fered very lit­tle to the for­mal po­lice state­ment he pro­vided in the af­ter­math of Roe­buck’s death. He also pro­vided one telling piece of phys­i­cal ev­i­dence that ap­peared to con­firm the ve­rac­ity of his tes­ti­mony. Ul­ti­mately, how­ever, would it stand up in a court of law? Af­ter all, it’'s his word against that of a dead man…”

PIC­TURES: TIM LANE AND EL­LIOT CARTLEDGE

CELEBRITY STA­TUS: Ian Botham and Roe­buck (right), pic­tured dur­ing Som­er­set's pre-sea­son tour of the Caribbean in early 1982.

DERELICT: Roe­buck’s sec­ond and fi­nal home in Pi­eter­mar­itzburg, now in a state of dis­re­pair.

COM­MON ABODE: Roe­buck’s first South African home, ‘Straw Hat Farm’ in the hills out­side Pi­eter­mar­itzburg.

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