Officers stationed at the cells would have been ‘told to observe activist’.
Dr Neil Aggett, who died in detention on February 5, 1982 after being arrested by the South African Security Police. Picture: Gallo Images / Sunday Times
A former Security Branch police officer who was part of the team tasked with interrogating Neil Aggett in the run-up to his death in detention in 1982, says he was never under the impression the struggle activist was a suicide risk.
Joseph Woensdregt on Monday told the High Court in Johannesburg that if he had been suspicious of a detainee, he would have made sure he had been placed on suicide watch.
“I would have told officers stationed at the cells to observe him to stop it from happening,” he said as the newly reopened inquest into Aggett’s death continued.
Aggett was arrested on the morning of 27 November, 1981. More than two months later, on 5 February, 1982, he was found hanging in his cell at what was then John Vorster Square (now Johannesburg Central Police Station).
ALSO READ: Neil Aggett inquest: A marked Aggett and a failed treason trial
The inquest into his death at the time found no-one was to blame.
It was, however, reopened last year on the back of sustained pressure from Aggett’s friends and family members who maintain he was either murdered or tortured so severely that his suicide was “induced”.
Last March, proceedings came to a halt after presiding officer Judge Motsamai Makume was admitted to hospital.
They were set to resume in June, but then had to be postponed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and only kicked off again last week.
When Nicolaas Dietleefs – another one of Aggett’s interrogators – took the stand last year, he told the court the doctor-cum-trade-unionist had appeared suicidal during their exchanges.
He also said Aggett’s chief interrogator, Steve Whitehead, was aware he had suicidal tendencies. But Dietleefs said he
had been told by his superiors not to disclose any of this at the initial inquest.
READ MORE: ‘Foul play possible’ in death of Neil Aggett, court hears
Woensdregt’s testimony on Monday, though, painted a different picture of events.
Asked if either Dietleefs or Whitehead had ever mentioned to him that Aggett may be a suicide risk, Woensdregt replied in the negative.
“And Whitehead and I were close,” he said. “He would have told me, he would have asked for my thoughts.”
He also said he, at least, had never been on the receiving end of an instruction to lie at the initial inquest.
The now 71-year-old retiree offered Aggett’s loved ones his condolences but remained adamant that he had nothing to do with his death.
He described him as “highly intelligent” and said Aggett “could have gone far”.
And asked how he had reacted to the news of Aggett’s death, Woensdretg said he had been “shocked”.
The case continues.
READ NEXT: Paul Erasmus: I was told to prove Aggett was born holding a gun to his own head
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