A Heidelberg businessperson who claimed he was wrongfully branded a murderer in a newspaper article a decade ago has lost his R500,000 defamation claim against Independent Newspapers.
Peter-Don Brandt, 55, a former police officer, sued Independent after publication of a 2008 article in the Cape Times, The Star and Pretoria News about judgment in the trial of his former employee, John Dhlomo, who was convicted and eventually sentenced to life imprisonment for murdering Brandt’s girlfriend, Captain Anna-Marie Potgieter.
Dhlomo admitted creeping up on Brandt and shooting her while she was in her bath, but claimed Brandt had offered to pay him R5,000 to shoot her and get rid of her body.
The newspaper article stated that Judge Margaret Victor had ruled that Dhlomo “had shot Potgieter dead for R5,000 in a cold, calculated contract killing orchestrated by Brandt”.
Brandt testified that he had not attended the trial as he was a witness and only found out about the article when a friend called him and asked if he was in jail, as it was on the front page of the newspapers that a judge had ruled that he was a murderer.
He said he was “very, very angry” and initially wanted his attorney to take on the judge, but then decided to sue the newspaper as he felt the article was not a correct reflection of the judgment and that the judge had never ruled that he was a contract killer or involved in his girlfriend’s murder.
He said the article had a great impact on his life as his family and friends did not want to believe he was not a murderer.
Independent denied the article was defamatory and pleaded that publication was lawful because the content was based on statements contained in the judgment and was protected by qualified privilege as an accurate record of court proceedings.
Judge Bill Prinsloo found that the article was indeed a true reflection of the judgment and not defamatory.
He upheld Independent’s defence of qualified privilege and dismissed Brandt’s claim with costs.