Former security branch police officer accused of misleading the 1982 Aggett Inquest

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The lawyer for Neil Aggett’s family says a four-page statement in which the anti-apartheid activist allegedly implicated his comrades in illegal activities is a security branch fabrication to cover up their role in his death.

Howard Varney has been challenging former security branch police officer, Petrus Woensdregt, on his evidence at the Aggett inquest, which is being conducted virtually.

Woensdregt was among the officers who interrogated Aggett a few days before he was found hanging in his cell at the then John Vorster Square Police Station in Johannesburg in February 1982.

The security branch had claimed he committed suicide, but Aggett’s family believes he was murdered.

Woensdregt maintained throughout his week-long testimony that he had nothing to do with Aggett’s death. He also denied assaulting him or any other detainee at John Vorster Square. Aggett was deprived of sleep for about 60 hours during interrogation on the 10th floor, from the 28th to the 30th of January 1981.

When asked about Aggett’s condition in the early hours of the 31st, when he was returned to his cell, Woensdregt said he looked fine.

However, Aggett family lawyer, Howard Varney, presented evidence to the contrary.

“The evidence that Dr Aggett could not get up on the 31st of January and did not take his three meals on that day, tends to suggest he was in an utterly exhausted state, which contradicts your assertion that he was in a completely good condition. My Lord, I’m not a medical doctor, I can only express my feeling pertaining to his physical condition and he looked fine to me. I was just wondering if there’s proper evidence before this court that Orie van Heerden could have come to this conclusion from where she was,” Varney said.

The security branch officers claim it was on the night of the 30th that Aggett made a four-page statement, incriminating his comrades. After Varney failed to get a satisfactory answer from Woensdregt, on whether he had found any incriminating evidence in the statement, Judge Motsamai Makume stepped in to assist.

“I’ve answered the question by saying no. So the answer is no, there was no incriminating evidence, is that the answer My lord? The answer is no, but I also said I think that the information was obtained later on.”

Towards the end of his testimony, Woensdregt was no longer keen to continue answering questions, as he protested that he felt there was an attempt to confuse him so he could implicate himself. However, Varney would not let up.

“And I wish to put the following to you, the reason there are multiple versions and the reason there’s confusion is because you and your colleagues concocted a cover story, you fabricated a cover story in 1982 and it’s difficult to hold such a cover story together.”

“I deny that any stories were fabricated My Lord, and I feel that I’m gonna incriminate myself because they’re trying to confuse me here.”

Woensdregt has concluded his testimony and a new witness will testify when the inquest hearing continues on Monday.

Former security branch police officer accused of misleading the 1982 Aggett Inquest: