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Remorse is also a dish best served cold

Lavina Thompson muses upon aspects of 'celebrity' trials

As a reasonable and logical lady, I naturally doff my hat to the notion that all men are innocent until proven guilty. I also acknowledge that, not having been in court to actually see the evidence being given, I probably have little basis upon which to make judgements about the key participants in the Reeva Steenkamp murder trial.

Nevertheless, the media coverage of the case that I have seen so far has done nothing to shift an inch my long-held previous prejudice (or is it cynicism?) towards the character of defendant Oscar Pistorius.

I do not dismiss the stress and frustration that any innocent man (or woman) must suffer at being put on trial for something that they haven’t done – it reminds me of the sleeve notes that Jonathan Miller supplied to the back cover of the original LP of Beyond The Fringe show, in which he stated that his greatest fear in life was the prospect of being tortured for information he didn’t have.

However, as with so many cases that become cause célèbres in the world’s media, the Steenkamp and Anni Dewani murder trials, now both under way in South Africa seem – to the average non-involved observer as they progress – to balance upon a 50:50 knife edge as regards the outcome.

The issues appear to be black and white.

Surely the main defendant in each case must be either innocent or guilty?

The cases made by the prosecution and the defence – so diametrically opposed in their explanations as to what happened and why – cannot possibly both be true: surely one of them must be making it up?

To skirt close to legal technicalities for a moment, we must of course remind ourselves that any form of adversarial criminal trial system does not per se set out to establish the truth.

Shrien Dewani

Shrien Dewani

Rather, it is based upon the scheme that the prosecution has to persuade the jury [in a trial in which a jury is involved] or the court [where there is no jury] that its case against the defendant is proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

This principle means that the defence doesn’t actually have to prove anything. It simply has to pick enough holes in the prosecution’s case to sow, in the minds of those judging the case, a reasonable doubt that it has been proved by the evidence presented.

All the above registered, none of it prevents this observer forming the prejudiced view that the stressed and emotional demeanours of both defendants in these cases – i.e. Oscar Pistorius in the Reeva Steenkamp trial and Shrien Dewani in the Anni Dewani equivalent – are just as likely to be borne of their eventual guilt as innocence.

In the case of Oscar Pistorius, for example, in the past two days whilst he has been on the witness stand, he has frequently broken down and had difficulty in giving his evidence-in-chief. His remorse seems genuine – I would not suggest that it is an act, or put-on.

However, I have found myself ‘turned off’ by his sobbing and wailing.

I make no comment upon whether the court will ultimately find him guilty (of something) rather than innocent, but it has tended to reinforce my lack of sympathy for his current predicament and lean me towards the conclusion that his version of events is less than the truth … and that he knows it.







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About Lavinia Thompson

A university lecturer for many years, both at home and abroad, Lavinia Thompson retired in 2008 and has since taken up freelance journalism. She is currently studying for a distant learning degree in geo-political science and lives in Norwich with her partner. More Posts