/ 6 May 2011

French fugitive couple ‘killed themselves’

The Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) has cleared the police over the Sutherland, Karoo, shooting of French fugitives Philippe Ménière and Agnes Jardel, finding that the couple killed themselves before police shot at them.

But journalists who were present at the scene of the shootout in January reported some worrying trends in police behaviour in their accounts of the shooting.
The Cape Argus reported that one of its photographers, who it chose not to name, witnessed a group of heavily armed policemen and officers from the national intervention unit descending on the Hardie farm, seeking cover behind several buildings and starting to shoot. Stun grenades were thrown and shots echoed around the farm, the report stated.

“After a few minutes the shooting stopped and officers moved towards the house. Others high-fived one another,” the Argus reported.

The Cape Times reported that one of its photographers, Michael Walker, who was present when the shootout occurred, had said he heard a woman scream during the shooting.

ICD executive director François Beukman said this week that it had been found that Ménière shot his partner and then himself. “It is evident from the postmortem examination that the wounds inflicted from the South African Police Service’s fired shots were not the cause of death but were shot at persons that were already clinically dead.”

Asked whether the couple had been given a chance to surrender, ICD spokesperson Moses Dlamini said police had called on the couple to give themselves up before shots were fired.

Medical supplies, emergency packs and survival guides were found in the farmhouse of the couple, who appeared to be members of the controversial Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment. The school was started in 1988 by Judy Zebra Knight, a 64-year-old American who claims to be the sole channel for a 35 000-year-old “spiritual entity” named Ramtha.

Beukman said an ICD team was dispatched to the scene on the day of the shooting to conduct an investigation into the incident and arrived in the Sutherland area at about 7pm that evening. A number of members of the police were interviewed and the crime scene was assessed.

“The autopsy examinations on the deceased were conducted in Kimberley by two pathologists,” he said. The postmortems were also attended by the ICD, a police ballistics unit from Cape Town and a representative of the French Consulate.

“The cause of death of both deceased was indicated as contact gunshot wounds to the head with a high-velocity firearm,” he said. “The ballistics report was consistent with the rest of the investigation.

“In summary, considering the contents of the SAPS members’ statements, the postmortem reports, the ballistics report and from observations made, it can be concluded that the deaths of the deceased persons cannot be attributed to the actions of the SAPS members and that the cause of death was self-inflicted contact gunshots to the heads.”

The reclusive couple lived frugally and owned two bicycles and an old Toyota Corolla, which had broken down, according to the police. They closed their bank accounts, withdrawing their last R8 500, which was found in a safe in the Sutherland farmhouse where they had lived for the past decade.