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Lawyers in turf war

William Booth, a top South African criminal lawyer, ruffled some legal feathers by showing up unexpectedly at the identification parade in Cape Town of the three men accused of murdering Swedish newlywed Anni Dewani.

Booth is not involved in the case and said he had arranged to be interviewed on another matter last Saturday by an SABC crew, which was at the Manenberg police station for the Dewani story. He said the SABC wanted to interview him — as a leading criminal law expert — about last month’s acquittal of Glenn Agliotti in the Brett Kebble murder case. Booth, who was rushing off to play tennis, had agreed to a quick interview outside the police station.

But his unexpected visit infuriated William da Grass, a prominent attorney who is representing Zola Tongo, the taxi driver in the Dewani case. Da Grass questioned whether Booth had gone to Manenberg in his capacity as chairperson of the Cape Law Society’s criminal law committee.

“I’m concerned that Booth’s presence could be interpreted as either him or our Cape Law Society keeping an eye on the activities of black practitioners,” said Da Grass.

Da Grass said it was highly unusual for all three attorneys of the accused in such a high-profile murder case to be black.

Booth’s presence at the identification parade also surprised Billy Gundelfinger, a divorce and criminal lawyer, who was hired by Anni’s husband, Shrien, to keep a watching brief.

‘Flabbergasted’
Gundelfinger, who unexpectedly withdrew from the case this week, said he was “flabbergasted” when he read in the Sunday Times that Booth had claimed Gundelfinger sought his advice on the Dewani case. In another foreign newspaper Booth was reported as questioning why Gundelfinger was hired by Dewani, as he was not a criminal lawyer.

“I confronted Booth and he admitted I’d never asked him for advice. Why would I need to? I’ve specialised in divorce and criminal law for 34 years,” said Gundelfinger. “Booth also denied advising the media ‘that it was odd that Dewani appointed a divorce lawyer’.”

Booth said he had never questioned Gundelfinger’s specialisation. “In fact, I was not interviewed by any newspaper. And I never received instructions from Gundelfinger,” he said. “He simply called me last week to get information from me about who was legally representing the accused in the Dewani case.

“Clearly I was not at the police station for anything to do with the Dewani case — it was completely coincidental.”

After his SABC interview, e.tv also filmed Booth, asking him what he thought about the lack of information the police were providing on the Dewani case. “I did say that police can’t jeopardise an investigation, but the more rumours that float around about who is a suspect, the more difficult it becomes,” said Booth. “I gave that type of input. There was nothing more to it.”

Vusi Tshabalala and Thabo Nogemane, the attorneys representing Dewani accused Xolile Mngeni and Mziwamadoda Qwabe respectively, said they accepted Booth’s explanation.

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Glynnis Underhill
Glynnis Underhill has been in journalism for more years than she cares to remember. She loves a good story as much now as she did when she first started. The only difference is today she hopes she is giving something back to the country.

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