S.Africa honeymoon murder suspect's life at risk, court told

13th December 2011, Comments 0 comments

The life of a British businessman accused of killing his Swedish bride on their honeymoon in Cape Town could be put at risk if he is extradited to South Africa, his High Court appeal heard Tuesday.

Shrien Dewani, 31, who is being treated in a mental hospital for severe depression and stress, is too ill to stand trial, the two judges hearing his appeal against extradition were told.

Dewani, a care home owner from Bristol in southwest England, is accused of murdering his new wife Anni, 28, in November last year. He denies wrongdoing.

"It will not be consistent with humanitarian principle to send some for extradition who is not fit to stand trial," his lawyer Claire Montgomery told the two High Court judges hearing his appeal.

"It will always be unjust to extradite somebody who is unfit -- no matter how serious the charge."

District judge Howard Riddle ruled in August that Dewani could be extradited to South Africa to face trial, but said the final word rested with Britain's interior minister.

Home Secretary Theresa May signed an order in September authorising his extradition to face trial in South Africa but Dewani appealed.

Montgomery told the High Court that his mental health had deteriorated to the point where he was "too ill to be extradited" and was a suicide risk.

She also argued he was at serious risk of violence if kept in custody in South Africa, including sexual violence, at the hands of other prisoners.

Lawyer Hugo Keith, appearing for the South African government, said Riddle's decision to allow extradition was "unassailable".

Dewani was not present for the hearing in London, which is due to conclude Wednesday. The High Court is then expected to defer judgement.

Montgomery said Dewani was so ill that he would be incapable of giving instructions to his lawyers or following trial proceedings, and he should not be extradited unless he recovers.

She said Dewani had always wanted a fair trial.

"However that is, at the moment, on the advice we have been given by those who are treating him, not possible," Montgomery said.

She urged the court to discharge the extradition order or adjourn its implementation.

She said Riddle had been wrong when he accepted South African assurances that Dewani's life and health would not be endangered if he was extradited.

Riddle had heard the potential risks posed to Dewani in a South African jail included gang culture, overcrowding, the risk of catching HIV and the level of vulnerability to sexual assault.

Furthermore, South African police and prosecutors had whipped up "explicit public hostility" towards him.

In November 2010, the newlyweds were being driven through a dangerous part of Cape Town when their taxi was hijacked. Dewani was thrown out of the vehicle while his wife was driven off and shot dead.

Driver Zola Tongo was jailed for 18 years after turning state witness and pleaded guilty to his part in the killing. He claimed Dewani had ordered the shooting and paid him.

The High Court heard that Dewani cannot be treated with anti-depressant medication because he suffers from a life-threatening reaction. His recovery is therefore likely to be "slow and unpredictable".

He is being visually checked every 15 to 20 minutes because he considered a high suicide risk.

© 2011 AFP

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