A KOALABATA man falsely accused of a ritual murder has filed a M1 million claim against the police for negligence following the vandalism of his home and vehicles by angry villagers three years ago.
Giving evidence in the High Court on Tuesday in motivation of the claim against the commissioner of police and attorney-general respectively, Lawrence Phasumane said the police failed to provide security for his property and belongings in Koalabata, Berea district on 22 January, 2012.
Mr Phasumane’s house was attacked by angry villagers who accused him of killing a Koalabata boy, Moholobela Seetsa (13), in January 2012 for ritual purposes.
However, it was later discovered that Mr Phasumane was falsely implicated in the incident after another boy, Kamohelo Mohata, was killed in July of the same year.
His innocence was proved in August 2012 when then 25-year old Lehlohonolo Scott and his mother, ‘Malehlohonolo, were arrested for the ritual murders of both Seetsa and Mohata.
However, Lehlohonolo escaped from Maseru Central Prison on 14 October 2012 as he awaited trial and fled to South Africa. He is yet to be returned to Lesotho despite a court in the neighbouring country ordering his extradition. Lehlohonolo’s mother is also out of prison on bail.
During the hearing, Mr Phasumane’s lawyer, Advocate Karabo Mohau (King’s Counsel), briefly outlined what the case was all about to Justice ‘Maseshophe Hlajoane.
“This is the action for damages arising from invasion and destruction of the plaintiff’s property by members of the public after making reports that his property was likely to be destroyed, but the first defendant (commissioner of police) and his subordinates failed to take relevant measures,” Advocate Mohau said.
“He (Mr Phasumane) alleges that if they had taken action, his property could have not been destroyed.”
“The defence denies that there was any report made prior to the incident,” Advocate Sekati said.
“The report came at the same day of the events, and the police took relevant measures to intervene. In short, the defendants deny liability.”
In his testimony Mr Phasumane narrated how his property ended up being destroyed.
“There was a child murdered in the village in January 2012, and I was suspected to having been involved,” he said.
“Many things transpired at the time, and the parents of the child came to my house at one point.
“One day, when I was in town, I received a telephone call that a corpse had been found. The call was also meant to inform me that many people had gathered at my home.
“I rushed to Mabote Police Station to report the matter because the Mabote police were already investigating me regarding the death of the child.
“I also went there because some people were also accusing me of being involved in the death of that child.
“I asked the police to accompany me to my place because I was scared to go alone.
“I cannot recall the exact date but it was in the middle of January between the 11th and the 15th.
“The police told me there was a shortage of staff and I should go home alone as nothing would happen to me. They said they would sent some police officers later that day.
“In fact, I wanted the security from the police because I was fearing for my life after being told that the people who had gathered at my place were heavily armed with sticks, swords and all sorts of weapons.”
He told the court that he doggedly asked the police whether they were serious in leaving him to go home alone under such circumstances. The police, Mr Phasumane said, insisted that nothing untoward would happen to him.
“As I was approaching my home, I saw many people gathering at my household, and as I drew nearer, they ran away,” he said.
Mr Phasumane said the following day he went to Maseru Central Charge Office to meet then Maseru Central Region Police Commissioner, Senior Superintendent Tšeliso Tšita, to lodge a complaint about the “bad service” he received from the Mabote police.
“Mr Tšita only said he would follow-up the matter,” he said.
“On the following day, I received a telephone call from Mabote police that I should report to the police station and I complied.
“Upon arrival, I was told that the police wanted to conduct a search at my home.”
Mr Phasumane said after the police searched his home, they refused to tell him what they were looking for.
“Although I did not know what they were looking for, I could only conclude that they did not find whatever they were looking for because they said they were satisfied,” he said.
“I went to meet Mr Tšita again the following day after the search to lodge another complaint that it was not right for the police to conduct a search at my place without telling me what it was they were looking for.
“Mr Tšita agreed that such practice was unprocedural and that he would make a follow-up on the matter.”
Mr Phasumane told the court that on 21 January, 2012, the day preceding the destruction of his property, he called Sen Sup Tšita to inform him about a gathering that was scheduled for a football ground two metres from his yard.
“I informed him that the purpose of the gathering was to plan how I would be killed together with my whole family,” he said.
“He (Sen Sup Tšita) asked me if the gathering was organised by the village chief, and I told him I did not know. I only told him that the plan was also to set my house on fire. He said he would talk to the chief.”
Mr Phasumane said on 22 January, 2012 all hell broke loose for him and his property.
He told the court that his relatives had already arrived at his home to give him support.
“There were four men and three women, all of whom were my relatives. I had already sent my children away,” Mr Phasumane said.
“It was at around 8:00am on 22 January, 2012 that a number of Quantum minibuses and trucks started unloading people on the football ground.
“They started singing and chanting facing the direction of my house.”
Mr Phasumane said his name featured prominently in the songs, which were sung in Sesotho.
He said the lyrics to one of the songs was: Phasumane, ke mang ea bolahileng Moholobela? (Phasumane tell us who killed Moholobela).
“I and the men that were at my place, began to prepare for whatever eventuality. We pulled out our guns as the mob started picking up stones,” said Mr Phasumane.
“Two police officers in civilian clothes arrived, and one of the officers went to the angry crowd, which I estimated to be around 500, to talk to them.
“I did not hear what he said to them. I only heard them shouting at him and throwing their hands in the air.
“I suddenly heard a window breaking on the side of my house facing the south.
“I rushed to that side of the house and shot in the air. The people on that side dispersed and the police officers also rushed to their vehicle to get their rifles.
“I can also recall that one of the police officers was hit by a brick from the angry mob as he was running towards the vehicle to get a rifle.”
Meanwhile, Mr Phasumane said he was already involved in a scuffle with the mob which had advanced towards his property. Mr Phasumane said he was assisted by the two police officers and the relatives who had come to support him.
He said the two police officers asked for reinforcements from the police station.
“About two to three hours after the fight started, I saw a police Quantum minibus being parked some distance from my house,” said Mr Phasumane.
“The police officers alighted from the vehicle, and one of the female officers, whose name I cannot recall, waved to the mob calling them towards the direction of my house.
“She addressed them and they shouted at her and threw stones at my house. Everything was now out of control.
“My car’s window glasses were broken, and we tried to drive the other cars into the garages but they were also damaged. It was utter chaos.
“The police officers shot in the air and used tear gas to disperse the mob and then put me in a Land Rover truck and drove me away from the scene.
“I later realised from photographs that, after I was taken away by members of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service, the mob destroyed my property in the presence of the police.”
The case proceeds.