A forensic pathologist says foul play cannot be ruled out in Neil Aggett’s death.
Professor Steve Naidoo says while it is possible that Aggett hanged himself, “it cannot be excluded that the deceased may have been suspended by another whilst in a state of unconsciousness”.
A unionist and doctor, Aggett was arrested and detained by the notorious security branch in late November 1981. More than two months later, on 5 February 1982, he died at John Vorster Square. His death was ruled a suicide at the time but his loved ones believe he was either murdered or tortured to such an extent that he was driven to take his own life.
Advocate Howard Varney – acting for Aggett’s family in the reopened inquest into his death – yesterday called Naidoo to the stand to testify to his own specialist forensic pathology opinion.
Naidoo explained to the court that he had been tasked with studying the records of Aggett’s death – along with the original inquest – and with trying to determine from the autopsy if Aggett had committed suicide; if he had been conscious at the time of his hanging; and whether Aggett had hanged himself or was hanged by someone else.
In his report, which has been submitted to the court, Naidoo confirmed that “the most derivable cause of death” was indeed “neck constriction by hanging”.
From the medical evidence, though, he could not say whether or not Aggett’s hanging had been self-inflicted. He did, however, say that in his opinion, “the history of the circumstances as detailed both by the deceased and other witnesses indicate both degrading and inhuman treatment and assault under physical constraints of his detention”.
In his report, Naidoo identified a string of “contentious issues arising from the medical death investigation” – including that there was no medical exam carried out at the scene of his death and, it appears, no photos taken at his autopsy.
On the stand, Naidoo described the handling of Aggett’s death as “a constellation of neglect, lack of commitment and lack of insight into what was needed”.