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Cops can’t explain why loaded gun that killed KZN advocate was taken to court

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The Pietermaritzburg prosecutor died after being shot in her left hip.

Durban – Police and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) cannot explain how the loaded gun that killed senior advocate Addelaid Ann Ferreira-Watt ended up in the Umzimkhulu Magistrate’s Court on Monday.

Ferreira-Watt, 51, was accidentally shot when the gun, thought to be a shotgun that was presented as evidence in a house robbery case, reportedly fell and discharged itself.

The Pietermaritzburg prosecutor died after being shot in her left hip.

The firearm, according to provincial police spokesperson Brigadier Jay Naicker, was brought to the court to be “entered as evidence”, but it is not clear why it was loaded.

Asked to explain the process followed when firearms were presented in court as evidence, Naicker said: “A case of culpable homicide is being investigated by Umzimkhulu police.

“It is alleged that on 18 November at 3.20pm, a 51-year-old woman was taken to hospital after she was struck by a bullet on the left of the hip. She later died in hospital.

“It is alleged that the weapon was brought to court to be entered as evidence in a house robbery case when it accidentally discharged in court. Unfortunately we cannot divulge further information as the investigations are at a sensitive stage.”

A mid-level police officer, who asked not to be named, said presenting firearms as evidence during trials depended on lawyers’ arguments during proceedings.

He said every firearm linked to a crime was taken for tests.

“Only the ballistics reports are presented in court. When confiscated, it is made sure that magazines and live ammunition are separated from the weapon. When a magazine is removed, whoever is signing in the weapon makes sure that there’s nothing left in the chamber. It is strange that this incident took place because those in the know will ask why it was loaded. I have never heard of anything like this,” said the officer.

The NPA described the incident as a “freak accident”.

KwaZulu-Natal Director of Public Prosecutions, Elaine Zungu, said: “It is with great sadness that I inform you of the passing on November 18 of senior State advocate Addelaid Ann Ferreira-Watt of the office of the director of public prosecutions, Pietermaritzburg. The family has requested that their privacy be respected.”

When contacted for further explanation, national spokesperson Bulelwa Makeke said: “The matter is under investigation.”

Criminal law expert and chairman of the Law Society’s Criminal Law Committee, William Booth, said this was a tragic incident that could have been avoided.

“Normally confiscated guns are ballistically tested and expert reports are drawn. In addition, a photographic album together with the report are submitted by the forensic expert to court. However, in very few cases a request is made by either party to bring a gun as a piece of physical evidence to court,” he said.

In that case the police and investigating officer had a responsibility to ensure that the firearm was not loaded and did not have a magazine, Booth said.

“They make sure that there is no live round in the chamber. In the case at hand, I’m not sure whether the firearm was stolen, found and returned to the owner, and the owner in turn brought it to court during the case. Either way, this really should not have happened because in my view it was loaded and that should have been prevented the moment the owner set foot at the door,” he said.

Daily News