Oscar Pistorius: South Africa police mobile phones confiscated
Officers who took photographs of Paralympic athlete after his arrest could face disciplinary action, says minister
Police in South Africa have been forced to surrender 49 mobile phones that they used to snatch photos of Paralympic star Oscar Pistorius after his arrest on suspicion of murder.
The intervention deals a fresh blow to the police's reputation and is indicative of the global media circus that surrounds Pistorius, with any picture of him a highly prized commodity.
Four official mobiles and 45 private phones were confiscated from officers on 20 February, six days after the athlete's arrest in connection with the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, South Africa's police minister said.
The phones were seized from officers at Boschkop police station in Pretoria after Pistorius was transferred between court and the station, Nathi Mthethwa wrote in a reply to parliament on Monday.
"This action was necessary after it came to light that photos were taken of a high-profile individual who had been arrested," Mthethwa wrote.
The phones could be used as evidence in possible disciplinary proceedings against the police officers, the minister added. He did not reveal how many officers had taken photos of Pistorius.
Pistorius, who is known as the Blade Runner, was initially held at Boschkop, a station near his home in suburban Pretoria, after being arrested on 14 February in connection with the fatal shooting of Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model. He was moved to another police station for his bail hearing at Pretoria magistrates court.
The case has already raised questions about the competence of the force. The former lead investigating officer, Hilton Botha, wilted under cross-examination in court during Pistorius's bail hearing and, it later emerged, he was himself facing seven charges of attempted murder. Botha was removed from the case and later resigned from the South African police.
He told South Africa's Star newspaper that he was stunned to hear that his former colleagues' phones had been seized. "I was involved in the case and my phone was never taken, and when I was there, no one's [from the detective team] phone was ever taken," he said.
Botha also told the Star that foreign media had offered 458,000 rand (£32,630) for a photograph of the toilet door that the athlete shot through when he killed Steenkamp. Officers were also offered between 5,000 and 10,000 a picture by South African media organisations, Botha added.
"If that happens [the leaking of photographs], both the state and the defence's cases could be destroyed," Botha told the Star. "I decided at that point that all pictures should be sent off to forensics immediately. That way we had no pictures and there could be no leak."
Despite the intense public interest in Pistorius, only one image of the double-amputee runner has emerged since he was freed on bail on 22 February. The photograph, also a mobile phone photo but taken by a school pupil, shows Pistorius wearing running gear and walking on his hi-tech running blades when he visited his practice track at Pretoria University last month.
Pistorius was granted bail of 1m rand on 22 February and has since had the conditions relaxed to allow him to compete overseas.
He has been living like a recluse at his uncle's home in Pretoria, but went out with friends for the first time on 6 April and was seen enjoying drinks at a restaurant in Johannesburg. A family spokesperson denied there had been any inappropriate behaviour.
Pistorius is due back in court for a hearing on 4 June.