/ 16 November 2021

Axed cop Jeremy Vearey’s dismissal was fair, bargaining council rules

Former Western Cape detective boss Jeremy Vearey. Photo: Deon Raath

Dismissed Western Cape police deputy commissioner and head of detectives, Jeremy Vearey, was encouraging a “mini insurrection” against the leadership of the South African Police Service (SAPS).  

The Safety and Security Sectoral Bargaining Council (SSSBC) ruled on Tuesday, 16 November, that the axed cop’s dismissal was substantively fair; bringing Vearey’s 26 years of service with SAPS and his gross monthly income of just more than R102 000 to a final end.  

Vearey encouraged a mini insurrection against police management with his controversial Facebook posts, which had the “the potential to inspire others, both within and outside [SAPS] to rise up and resist the authority of the national commissioner and those in the leadership and this would collapse discipline,” ruled advocate Imthiaz Sirkhot, who presided over the arbitration process to adjudicate whether the former cop’s firing was fair.

Vearey was dismissed after being found guilty of bringing the SAPS into disrepute by posting eight Facebook posts, which contained links to media reports, between December 2020 and February 2021.

The arbitrator dismissed Vearey’s defence that he was posting on his personal account and acting within his right for freedom of speech. 

Sirkhot found Vearey had “deliberately breached” the police’s national instruction (5 of 2017 media communication) with the posts, adding that Vearey did not provide an explanation for breaching the policy for communicating on social media. 

“The national instruction clearly states that no employee may engage in online publication or communication on social media which could bring the service into disrepute … The personal use of social media implies that the employees are using social media for personal interest, which has nothing to do with their duties in the service,” Sirkhot noted, adding that Vearey crossed this line by “openly challenging his employer in a public forum”. 

Sirkhot described a post on 24 January 2021 in which Vearey wrote: “The year of deceiving dangerously”, above an article showcasing a photo of national police  commissioner Khehla Sitole, as a clear attempt to “discredit and undermine the authority” of Sitole. 

“Any lay person coming across this post would justly arrive at the conclusion that [Vearey] was referring to national commissioner Sitole. This was a comment by the applicant on the character of national commissioner Sitole. [Vearey] was sending out a message that there was deception in SAPS, and that Sitole was responsible for this deception,” reads the arbitration ruling.

In another post in February, which contained the Afrikaans swear word “MOER HULLE!”, Sirkhot found Vearey was inciting violence against senior officers in the SAPS including Sitole, lieutenant general Nneke Ledwaba and lieutenant general Francinah Vuma. The article linked to his post focused on a court hearing in which lieutenant general Peter Jacobs was challenging disciplinary action against him. 

Sirkhot rejected Vearey’s version that SAPS had already been trying to get rid of him and that the decision to dismiss him had nothing to do with the Facebook posts.

During the arbitration hearing, advocate Johann Nortje, representing Vearey, cross-examined a state witness, Limpopo’s deputy police commissioner, major general Jan Scheepers, who led the investigation into Vearey’s dismissal. 

Nortje brought forward a string of allegations previously outlined in reports by media outlets such as IOL and the Daily Maverick. The allegations drove the narrative that senior officials within SAPS wanted to get rid of Vearey. 

However, as reported earlier, Scheepers denied the allegations, saying: “The national commissioner did not call me somewhere privately and say ‘I want Jeremy Vearey out’. I did this [investigation] without any influence, and if someone should have tried, I would [have] reported it.”

Responding to Nortje’s assertion that Scheepers wanted to “nail” Vearey, he maintained: “No sir, it was an independent investigation.”

On Tuesday, Sirkhot found that, apart from “generalised assertions regarding the existence of the investigation”, Vearey failed to offer any evidence that the investigations were retaliatory.

“There is no evidence before me to illustrate that [SAPS] wanted to get rid of Vearey,” Sirkhot added.

“The sanction of dismissal is appropriate under the circumstances … The trust relationship between [Vearey] and [SAPS] has broken down irretrievably. It would be intolerable for [Vearey] to remain in the service of SAPS. The only sanction that can be imposed is one of dismissal.” 

The Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union, which lodged the dispute with the bargaining council, could not provide the Mail & Guardian with an immediate reaction to the arbitration outcome.