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Guilty until proven innocent

By River Reporter Feb 28, 2013

Olympic hero Oscar Pistorius must prove to the world that he is innocent… but is this right?

Zoe Birdsall 

It seems that the taken-for-granted right that we have in the UK of innocent until proven guilty does not apply to all countries, nor does it apply to our British press when covering these international cases.

It has been the main topic of news and discussions since the story broke two weeks ago when Para-Olympian Oscar Pistorius shot dead his girlfriend in his Pretoria home in South Africa in the early hours of Valentine’s Day.


The South-African judicial system has come under question considerably since the incident. The murder trial of Pistorius has certainly highlighted shortcomings in the legal system in the African country.

First, the Chief Investigator Hilton Botha was suspended from the case after it came to light that he is involved in a murder trial himself. He also reportedly missed vital evidence in the Pistorius case and was not fast enough on gathering certain information.

A recent piece in the Guardian revealed the true conditions inside the prisons there. Sharing a cell made for 30 people with 87 other men, 12 sleeping in bunk beds made for four, a toilet that is blocked, inadequate meals, doctors who take two weeks to visit, cellmates with TB and HIV that were not given medication…

It seems a million miles away from the prisons in the UK with single cells and televisions.

Furthermore, BBC reporter, Andrew Harding, tweeted that there was a seven-year back log on toxicology reports in South Africa.

The rumours

From the moment the tragic news of Steenkamp’s death broke, rumours were flying all over the globe. The first invented information was that Oscar had mistaken his girlfriend, who was trying to sneak into the house for a Valentine’s morning surprise, as an intruder.

Rumours have since spiralled out of control over how many times she was shot, what caused the arguments, alleged affairs, texts, a crushed skull and even illegal steroids.

The latest to hit the front covers of tabloids this week was that Ms Steenkamp was pregnant. The source? A US tabloid newspaper… so it MUST be true?

Unsurprisingly Ms Steenkamp’s family have come out to say that this information is simply made up. There seems to be a theme going here. What can we believe about this story?

The media attention was always going to be huge. Stories like this do not come about often, a national hero who admits to shooting his girlfriend. The last story of this kind was the O.J Simpson trial in 1995.

Is it really fair to brand the athlete a murderer before we even know the facts? Just because the court case is not happening in the UK should not mean that we are allowed to throw out of the window all of the legal and ethical practices that we abide by.

Media circus

Pistorius was released on bail last week and is hiding from the media, unsurprisingly, in his uncle’s home. If this man is innocent, then we should let him grieve the tragic death of his girlfriend in privacy.

And if he is guilty, then it is likely that the truth will come out in the trial later this year and he will get his punishment. Either way, we should respect the family and friends of the beautiful young woman whose life has been taken.

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