Vearey hearing adjourned over Covid-19 scare

The arbitration hearing into the dismissal of former detective head Major General Jeremy Vearey was abruptly adjourned on Thursday after it came to light that a  person in the venue had come into direct contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19. 

Before the postponement, the hearing heard about the precarious relationship between the South African Police Service (SAPS) and Vearey and his long-time colleague, Lieutenant General Peter Jacobs.

Vearey was dismissed from SAPS in May after a hearing found that a series of social media posts he made brought the service into disrepute. After he was fired, the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union lodged a dispute with the bargaining council in terms of procedural and substantive fairness, leading to the current arbitration process. 

On the fourth day of the hearing on Thursday, advocate Omphemetse Mooki, the state attorney representing the police, drew Vearey’s attention to a social media post dated 23 December 2020, which read: “Time longer than rope – We won against all their money and power before. And this one we shall win again, no matter the sacrifice or cost”.  The post linked to a News24 article titled ‘Crime Intelligence battle heads to court’.

Mooki asked Vearey if he had formed a view on the contents of the article, which made reference to a court battle between SAPS and Jacobs after his suspension as national crime intelligence head in November 2020. Jacobs challenged his suspension in the labour court.  

Vearey denied that he formed a view on the article, saying he read several articles daily. He pointed out that the article in question was about a topic he was “interested in” and “knew about”.

To which Mooki responded: “Precisely: it was a topic you were interested in; you formed a view (on the article)”

“It was a matter heading to court and it would have been wrong of me to be judgmental,” Vearey responded.

“Knowing the background of the issue, [and] knowing, according to you, how you and General Jacobs were dealt with by the SAPS … how can you or any person believe you when you say you have no view after reading this article?” Mooki wondered.

Mooki said the view Vearey took was that “it happened in the past and you won in the past; they [SAPS] had all the money, they had all the resources, they had all the power, but you will win again”.

The past referred to both Vearey and Jacobs challenging their transfers at the labour court  in 2017 when Vearey was the Western Cape province’s deputy commissioner for detective services and Jacobs was the provincial crime intelligence unit.

On Thursday, Vearey recalled an incident in which he and Jacobs had been “offered a bribe” by another police officer.

“In that particular matter, Brigadier Arthur Mphalele … offered General Jacobs and I a bribe. He asked us ‘What is your price?’ in such a loud way that all the journalists heard it and reported on that,” said Vearey, explaining that his social media post   in December 2020 referred to that 2017 incident.

“We shall win again, is an encouragement for ourselves, me and in solidarity with General Jacobs. We shall do so whatever the sacrifice or cost, whatever money, and whatever is required of us. It is a principle he and I both live by and that has carried us throughout our lives and throughout our history, even before we were police officers,” he added.

Mooki then called for evidence from an eNCA video in which Vearey was interviewed on 3 June, days after his dismissal was signed off by National Police Commissioner Khehla Sitole, but Vearey’s lawyer John Nortje objected, saying the  the video was new evidence being brought forward after the state had closed its case. 

“It is clearly unmissable … The state is reopening (its) case during cross-examination,” Nortje said.

During a short break to set up the video, it came to light that a person participating in the hearing had been in direct contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19. 

Advocate Imthiaz Sirkhot, acting as arbitrator in the matter, postponed the hearing to 13 and 14 September.

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Eunice Stoltz
Eunice Stoltz is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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