Timol Inquest: Ex-security branch cop accused of fabricating story
2 August 2017
Johannesburg – Advocate Howard Varney on Wednesday cast doubt on the testimony given by former security branch policeman Sergeant Joao Jan Rodrigues in the Timol Inquest.
During cross-examination Varney poked holes in his testimony.
The 78-year-old Rodrigues appeared in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria on Monday. He had been subpoenaed to testify about what happened on that fateful day - October 27, 1971 - when Timol, 29, a young Roodepoort school teacher, allegedly jumped out a window on the 10th floor of John Vorster Square in Johannesburg.
According to the police, Timol, an anti-apartheid activist, committed suicide by jumping out of the window. However, the family disputed this, believing that Timol was killed by the security branch while in detention.
Rodrigues, who is said to have been the last person to see Timol alive, told the court on Monday that he had been summoned to the building, now known as Johannesburg Central Police Station. Two officers - captains JH Gloy and JZ Van Niekerk - had asked Rodrigues to bring them their salaries, as well as a sealed envelope.
When he arrived, he had found the two men sitting in room 1026 with another man.
A certain man - Mr X - came into the room and announced the arrests of three other people, believed to have been connected with Timol.
The two officers then left the room and asked Rodrigues to look after Timol.
Shortly after the men left the room, Timol asked Rodrigues to take him to the toilet. Then, within a few seconds, Timol managed to get himself to the window and jumped, according to Rodrigues.
On Wednesday, Varney, representing the Timol family, stopped short of calling Rodrigues a liar after he presented various versions of what had happened.
Varney asked Rodrigues about the three cups of coffees, which he claimed he had brought into the room for Gloy, Van Niekerk and Timol.
Varney asked Rodrigues if he knew Mr X, who had walked into the office and announced that three people had been arrested - among them, brothers Quentin and Henry Jacobsen.
Rodrigues said he did not know Mr X, but estimated that he was of medium build, middle-aged, and spoke in Afrikaans.
Frank Dutton, a private investigator commissioned by Timol's family, had earlier testified that officers had allegedly said that they had reason to believe that Timol and the Jacobsens were co-conspirators, which drove Timol to commit suicide by jumping out of the window.
Varney asked Rodrigues why Timol had been shocked to hear that Quentin Jacobson had been arrested, because when Jacobson’s criminal case arose, Timol’s name was never raised.
Jacobson was later acquitted in the matter.
Varney also told Rodrigues that it had subsequently emerged that the Jacobson brothers were never involved in any underground activities.
Judge Billy Mothle said: "Mr Rodrigues, this means it raises questions about your statements that Timol was shocked to hear about the arrests."
Rodrigues told the court that he was only commenting on what he had seen.
'I had no other option'
Varney told Rodrigues that his "Mr X story is just that - it is a story. It is a fabrication and you played along".
Varney asked Rodrigues how it was possible that experienced officers had left him alone with a prized detainee (Timol), when he was only an office clerk.
He was also asked if he had had the authority to take Timol to the toilet. "It was an instruction that I had to carry out, I had no other option... I did not have another option. You did what you were told to do," he said. Rodrigues said he thought that Timol’s request to use the toilet was reasonable.
Varney said, because Rodrigues did not have authorisation to move Timol out of room 1026, he should have told him to "sit down until the other officers returned".
Varney told Rodrigues that the toilet story was also a fabrication.
Rodrigues told the court that he had not felt intimidated by Timol, who was 61kg and 1.6m tall.
Varney read Rodrigues two pathology reports in which it was said that Timol had sustained several bruises to his body, as well as a dislocated left ankle.
Because of these injuries, it was highly improbable that Timol could have sprung up and dived out of a window, Varney told the court.
"I cannot confirm this, I am not a doctor," said Rodrigues.
Varney read out Rodrigues's various statements - including that of Captain Gloy and a Brigadier Cecil William St John Pattle - made during the findings of the initial inquest in 1972.
He pointed out that the statements had different version of events.
Varney said: "I put it to you that we’re going to argue that differences in versions have arisen because the entire business of suicide is a fabrication... It’s always difficult to maintain consistency in a fabrication."
Varney said given the small size of the room "it is most extraordinary that you could not catch him". But Rodrigues hit back, saying that it all happened in a split second.
Varney told Rodrigues: "If your story had any credibility, you would have caught him."