A support group is to lay a criminal complaint against one of Neil Aggett’s interrogators this week in pursuit of a private prosecution. Trade unionist and doctor Aggett died in detention in 1982. He was 28.
Neil Aggett Support Group co-ordinator Brian Sandberg said the group would on Wednesday formally lay a complaint of culpable homicide against Stephan Whitehead, who interrogated Aggett in prison, at the Johannesburg Central police station.
Wednesday is the 32nd anniversary of Aggett’s initial detention. Aggett, organiser for the Food and Canning Workers’ Union, was detained with 17 other unionists.
He died on February 5, 1982, following a 60-hour interrogation and 70 days in detention without trial. He was found hanged from the bars of the steel grill of his cell in John Vorster Square police station, now Johannesburg Central. A 1982 inquest held that no one was to blame.
Sandberg said the group was pursuing a private prosecution but they needed a National Prosecuting Authority certificate stating that the NPA would not prosecute him. The NPA’s intentions were not yet clear.
“A private prosecution works exactly like any other prosecution but instead of the State, you have a private legal team. It can have the same consequences,” said Sandberg.
He said the group could have pursued a charge such as murder or attempted murder, but wanted only the truth behind Aggett’s death.
“All we want is to get this man in court, in the dock, and to tell the truth,” he said.
They previously called for Aggett’s interrogators - Whitehead and his superior at the time, Arthur Cronwright - to be prosecuted. They wrote to Justice Minister Jeff Radebe, who replied that the matter had been considered by the Priority Crimes Litigation Unit in the NPA and the Hawks.
Cronwright’s whereabouts were unknown.
Sandberg believed the probe was moving too slowly, so the support group decided on private prosecution.
“This needs to get finalised. It’s more than three decades later,” he said. “Out of all the unresolved detention cases, Neil’s is the one that, if it’s pushed through the justice system, will help open the door for others to get justice down the line.”