Questions raised over Roebuck’s death
Family asks to reopen inquest
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…”
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.