An attempt by five of the 20 Boeremag treason trialists to escape from custody at the Palace of Justice in Pretoria was foiled on Tuesday morning.
Police at the scene confirmed that all five were in custody again after making a dramatic attempt to escape during a tea break.
One of the men, Herman van Rooyen, broke a glass door at the court exit, sprayed ammonia into a security guard’s eyes and ran into the street.
He was caught within minutes by the police, with the help of car guards, in Paul Kruger Street close to the Palace of Justice on Church Square and dragged back into the court.
Another accused, Tom Vorster, physically attacked a policewoman but she hit back and brought him under control.
Three of the other accused — Mike du Toit, Vis Visagie and Rudi Gouws — were caught inside the court before they could escape.
Smuggled into court
A policewoman, three policemen and a security guard were taken to hospital after ammonia was sprayed in their eyes.
The ammonia was apparently smuggled into court in nose-spray bottles.
Police National Commissioner General Bheki Cele praised police for their “swift reaction” to the attempted escape.
“Our NIU [National Intervention Unit] members are well trained and highly experienced and no doubt this led to them being able to recapture all five, known to be highly dangerous, with the minimum use of force. I applaud them on their dedication,” said Cele in a statement.
According to police spokesperson Brigadier Sally de Beer, there was a “strenuous struggle” between the accused and police during the escape attempt but no weapons were drawn and the “minimum force” was used under the circumstances.
De Beer confirmed that four NIU members were taken to hospital for their eye injuries.
The marathon treason trial of 20 so-called Boeremag members continues after eight years in the Pretoria High Court. They are facing more than 40 charges related to a right-wing plot to overthrow the government.
Van Rooyen and Gouws had to wear manacles in court when they were recaptured following months on the run after they escaped from custody at the high court in Pretoria in 2006. The manacles were found inside court GD, where legal argument for the defence continued on Tuesday morning. It is not yet known yet known how they managed to free themselves from the leg irons.
All of the accused, including eight out on bail, were dragged back into court in the immediate aftermath of the escape attempt.
The trial began in Pretoria’s Palace of Justice in May 2003 under the glare of acute media interest, but the state only started presenting evidence five months later.
The state finally closed its case in June 2007 after calling 158 witnesses.
Numerous legal wrangles, including several applications about the conditions in jail and many dealing with Legal Aid Board disputes, have stretched the trial into one of the longest-running criminal trials in South African legal history. — Sapa