In the North Gauteng High Court, Judge Cynthia Pretorius ordered the minister of police to compensate Matsobane Nelson Latakgomo for his ordeal after he was arrested at the Pick n Pay store in Milpark, Johannesburg, in November 2007.
Latakgomo’s claim was initially dismissed and he had to go to the Supreme Court of Appeal for leave to appeal against the ruling.
The security guard was arrested in front of his colleagues on a charge of shoplifting after the store owner reported to the police that some of his employees had stolen chicken from the store over the weekend.
Latakgomo was accused of stealing two packets of chicken. He immediately protested, saying he had paid for them and produced a till slip and an approval slip from his bank to show he had used his bank card to pay.
The arresting officer, however, refused to even look at his till slip and said he could show it to the magistrate.
The store owner admitted that he had not seen Latakgomo tampering with the packets of chicken portions he had bought and for which he had proof of payment.
There was also no indication that the packets of chicken he had bought had been tampered with and no investigation was launched to ascertain if the packets contained more chicken than they were supposed to.
The owner also conceded that Latakgomo was not among those he had seen stealing in the coldroom.
Judge Pretorius said the production of a till slip should immediately have alerted the arresting officer that it was necessary to thoroughly investigate the allegation against Latakgomo before taking the drastic step of arresting him without a warrant.
She said there was no evidence at all that linked Latakgomo to the syndicate which had purportedly stolen the chicken and the arresting officer did not evaluate the evidence and could not have had a reasonable suspicion that Latakgomo had committed theft.
The judge said arrest was only a means to secure the defendant’s presence at court and was not meant to be a punishment in itself.