Sold out to police for a good story
The actions of a British paper led to the arrest of a mercenary accused of third force killings. Did they double-cross a murderer for the sake of a good story? Eddie Koch reports
THE London Sunday Times is facing controversy over its role in the arrest of a mercenary who was its source in an expose of South African third force murders.
When Tim Rayment’s shovel touched the head of a black youth who had been shot in the back of the head and buried in a mielie-field on a Heidelberg farm, in Gauteng, the reporter uncovered the biggest story of his life and an ethical nightmare.
Rayment and his colleagues had been digging for a few hours in the middle of the night hoping to find evidence that would support claims by a British mercenary called Tyrone Chadwick that the farm was a base where Inkatha hit squads were trained by members of the AWB, when they came across the corpse of “Lucky”.
In London six weeks earlier, Chadwick had told the reporter that British mercenaries and members of the Afrikanerweerstandsbeweging (AWB) had used the farm to train black volunteers for hit squads and that these units were then sent out to attack minibuses, taxi ranks and “ANC settlements” on the East Rand.
Chadwick said he personally shot Lucky, a 17-year-old from Katlehong, in the neck because the youngster had shown a marked lack of enthusiasm during one of these hit squad operations.
The mercenary said he then finished the boy off with a bullet in the back of the head and killed another youth before burying both.
And in an effort to back these grisly claims he drew a sketch map of the training base that shows where Lucky and 14 other victims of the third force unit were allegedly buried.
Rayment’s newspaper, The Sunday Times of London, then decided to fly Chadwick and the reporter out to South Africa to corroborate the claims. During the expedition, the journalist interviewed a number of contacts who partially confirmed the mercenary’s story—and then he went out with four companions, armed with the sketch map, to find the hard evidence.
“We worked quietly by moonlight: a quarter of a mile away was the home of a white farmworker known as the ‘colonel’, whose sitting room is dominated by two portraits of Eugene Terre’Blanche, the AWB leader and a drinks bar fashioned by an upright coffin. Chadwick was there enjoying a braai with the colonel and plying him with whisky so that he would not notice our camera flashes,” explained Rayment.
“After 20 minutes an armed farm patrol came across our car, which was parked at the side of a remote dirt track, and moved towards us with their guns cocked (during these tense moments one of the spades was standing in a heap of fresh earth clearly visible in the moonlight). Two of our party went to greet them, claiming to be looking for the colonel’s barbecue. While they drove off to join the braai, we kept absolutely still, then returned to dig ... His head emerged first, coated in dark grey soil, three or four feet down.”
With the discovery of the corpse, The Sunday Times terminated its trip, flew back home and published an exclusive inside story. That report notes Chadwick’s evidence could provide the government here with vital evidence about “one of South Africa’s dirtiest secrets”—the third force and the causes of internecine violence in the country.
But before they left the reporters did something else. They consulted lawyers and, apparently as a result of this, details given to them by their source reached police investigators. Within hours, Chadwick and an alleged accomplice in the AWB were arrested and are now sitting in prison.
Did the British reporters “shop” their source? If so, did they breach an ethical code that governs journalists doing this kind of investigation? Rules that say your sources have to be protected no matter how unsavoury they may be. Should they have warned Chadwick before going to the lawyers? The reply from Richard Ellis, managing editor of The Sunday Times, is unequivocal.
“Chadwick agreed to be named in any article, and was willing for his incriminating claims about his alleged part in atrocities to be printed, even though he was aware of the dangers to himself. He co-operated by providing information, posing for photographs and giving names of alleged associates. There was never any question of protecting his identity as a ‘source’. We had a clear moral, ethical, legal and journalistic duty to act in the way we did ...”
Experts on investigative reporting say this is a real- life case study of the kind of moral and professional conundrums they put to cadets back in journalism school—but they are undecided about how these issues should be handled by members of the media.
Jeanette Minnie, executive director of the Freedom of Expression Foundation, said: “It’s a real dilemma. In circumstances like this they were walking a fine line between publishing an important story in the public interest and aiding and abetting a possible crime. Had their information not been handed to the police as soon as practicable, they could have been accused of helping a criminal escape from justice. They could even have faced criminal charges themselves.”
David Dison, a media lawyer in Johannesburg, said: “The rules of ethical journalism state clearly that journalists should not become players in the events they are reporting. In this sense, they should publish their stories and then leave it up to the police to investigate details. I would say there was a slight breach of these ground rules in this case but that this was overridden by the political morality of their behaviour.”
Hugh Lewin, acting director of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism, commented: “It sounds to me like these guys were ill-prepared and they now look slightly ridiculous because they had not equipped themselves for the obvious possible consequences of their investigation. They have got themselves into a difficult situation by breaking every moral precept on which journalist practise is based ...
“You don’t make an agreement with crooks, you don’t make deals with people who come to you with dubious motives especially when you are dealing with a delicate situation like that in South Africa where we have issues concerning third force activities, amnesty and the Truth Commission. This is not a game.”
The reporter, Tim Rayment, says: “This was a difficult assignment, with moments of acute soul searching. Even after finding the body, I found large parts of Tyrone Chadwick’s story very doubtful. But important parts were true, and the young man’s corpse was real. My instinct was to keep going.
“In The Sunday Times office 6 000 miles away, my employers were more objective. They felt that with the discovery of a murder victim, a journalist’s duty to research gives way to another imperative: to consult lawyers about what you have found ... I did not speak to the police, played no part in Chadwick’s arrest, and refused to be part of any entrapment.”
* Chadwick and alleged accomplice Marthinus Venter have already appeared in court on murder charges and have been refused bail. Police unearthed two bodies on the farm but have so far failed to find evidence of other corpses that Chadwick claims are there.