Three appeal judges have ruled that the police have a duty to protect the public, and even suspected criminals deserve to be treated with dignity, notes a report in The Mercury. They confirmed the five-year effective prison sentences of five KZN police officials, who were involved in breaking the neck of a suspected robber during an interrogation.

It was a question of third time unlucky for officers Njabulo Mkhize, Mbongeni Dlamini, Jabulani Zulu, Muzi Mbuyaza and Thuthukani Gumede, when they tried to appeal against their prison sentences in the SCA. They were part of a special task team in KZN, investigating a spate of hijackings and robberies in the Jozini area when Bongani Cebekhulu was arrested, and ended up dead.

The court accepted that the five officers were present when his neck and spine were fractured. The five remained mum, but told their lawyer Cebekhulu died after he fell off a chair. Three SCA judges rejected this version as highly unlikely.

The five officers were initially sentenced to correctional supervision on a charge of culpable homicide. They appealed to the High Court, which confirmed the culpable homicide conviction but found their sentences lenient and changed it to five years in jail.

Unhappy with the conviction and sentence, they turned to the SCA, where three judges found they deserved jail time.

Judge Ramimaka Mathopo confirmed their conviction on the doctrine of common purpose. He said although they remained tight-lipped, they did not dispute that they were in the interrogation room when Cebekhulu died.

Full report in The Mercury (subscription needed)

Mkhize and Others v State