/ 12 November 2005

Aspeling shot while under witness protection

The father of 10-year-old kidnap victim Liam Aspeling was shot and wounded while in a witness-protection programme, the Vereeniging Regional Court heard on Friday.

Vernon Aspeling is a state witness in the Cape High Court trial of a group of people facing 28 charges, including robbery and kidnapping, and he was shot at 3am on June 12 this year, while under witness protection.

An attempt was also made to shoot Liam’s mother, the court heard.

”They tried, but because he was in witness protection they could not succeed. They then decided to kidnap the child,” alleged investigating officer Friccah Masilela.

Masilela was testifying at the bail application of Jacob Themba Sishange, Phamuel Selani and Elton Ferdine, who were arrested after Liam was found and freed, and Leroy Rookie Smith, who later handed himself over to police.

Masilela told the court that according to information gathered during the investigation, Smith’s brother Llewelyn is in Pollsmoor prison and is among those involved in the Cape High Court trial in which Liam’s father is a witness.

If convicted, the accused in that case could face life sentences.

Masilela said police believe that Leroy was the mastermind behind the kidnapping, and had asked a person described as ”the boss”, who is still at large, to find people to carry out the kidnapping.

If it was successful, they would receive R10 000 between them and more money would be forthcoming if the Cape High Court trial had a favourable outcome for those accused.

Kidnap attempts

In the weeks leading up to the trial, two attempts were made to kidnap Liam. On the first attempt, the group backed off when they saw what they thought was a police car parked in the yard of Liam’s home, and in the second, they could not identify him among a group of children and withdrew again.

Before the final successful attempt on Tuesday October 11, they briefly took the wrong child, Masilela alleged.

On that Monday, Liam’s father was going to start testifying.

The boy was snatched out of the Toyota Corolla that picked him up for school from outside his mother’s house in Ennerdale.

He was taken at gunpoint to a two-roomed house in Freedom Park where his hands and feet were bound with rope and a blanket covered his face.

He was held at gunpoint and threatened, Masilela said.

Various people, including Selani, visited him to check that he was still there.

When he was found and freed, he had bruises on his wrists from the rope and was traumatised.

Details of how he was found were not revealed in court, but newspaper reports at the time said that he was found by a private investigator.

Masilela alleged that two of the accused had already been paid R2 500 each for the kidnapping and police had seized R2 300.

Masilela said that investigators had records of SMSs and telephone calls made between the accused to link them, as well as records of telephone calls between the two Smith brothers.

Ben Botes, lawyer for the four, said information presented during the bail application was merely information from informants and information gathered during the investigation, and not evidence.

During the application, the four casually dressed men listened intently, and during a break in the proceedings, Smith and his mother embraced while he sat in the dock.

The rest of the family sat in the back of the court.

Liam is currently also in a protective programme.

The case was postponed until November 15, to allow for an identity parade. — Sapa