Former Western Cape police deputy commissioner and head of detectives Jeremy Vearey and his legal team, which is challenging his dismissal in May, are seeking to gain an advantage from national police commissioner Khehla Sitole’s looming suspension.
“We respectfully submit that the arbitrator may take judicial cognisance that the president issued a notice to have Sitole suspended. There can therefore not be an argument that the reinstatement of Vearey will create an intolerable trust relationship between Vearey and Sitole,” Vearey’s lawyer John Nortjé said.
Nortjé was responding to the South African Police Service’s (SAPS) submission to the Safety and Security Sectoral Bargaining Council (SSSBC), which has led the arbitration process between Vearey and the police after his dismissal.
Vearey was fired after being found guilty of bringing the SAPS into disrepute by posting eight Facebook posts between December 2020 and February 2021, which contained links to media reports.
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 arbitration hearing, which concluded in September, leaving both the state and Vearey to submit their heads of arguments.
In early October, President Cyril Ramaphosa issued a notice for Sitole’s suspension relating to a high court judgment in January about R45-million the police service spent on surveillance devices. Ramaphosa asked the commissioner to send him representations as to why he should not be suspended, which Sitole has done.
Vearey’s defence is challenging the police’s argument that his reinstatement will create an intolerable trust relationship with Sitole.
“The trust relationship between Vearey and the SAPS as [the] employer has broken down,” advocate Omphemetse Mooki, representing the police, said in his submission to the arbitrator.
“She illustrated how it would be intolerable for Vearey to remain an employee, given Vearey’s conduct. It is one of the fundamentals of the employment relationship that the employer should be able to place trust in the employee,” argues Mooki.
In his response, Nortjé asserted that the “say-so of Ntshinga does not meet the threshold of ‘intolerability’ to reinstate Vearey”.
Ntshinga was appointed by Sitole to chair the disciplinary process that led to Vearey’s dismissal. In her findings she concluded that anything short of firing him would amount to condoning Vearey’s conduct.
The Mail & Guardian previously reported that Vearey’s Facebook posts were read as tacit criticism of Sitole. One post in January 2021 included a picture of the national commissioner and a caption by Vearey which read: “An acute case of foot-in-mouth” disease, according to Ntshinga’s 14-page finding.
Vearey’s defence argues that he was unfairly dismissed and wants him reinstated as the Western Cape’s deputy provincial commissioner responsible for detective services, and that he is entitled “to all benefits, accruals and bonuses he might have forfeited during the period of his dismissal”.
The police have until 10 November to respond to Vearey’s heads of arguments, after which the arbitrator, advocate Imthiaz Sirkhot, has 14 days to deliver his judgment.