British journalist Simon Wright is to go on trial in Cape Town this weekend -- and the state has brought its big guns to bear on him.
British journalist Simon Wright is to go on trial in Cape Town this weekend—and the state has brought its big guns to bear on him.
Wright, who works for the Sunday Mirror, was arrested after he interviewed a fan who intruded into the English soccer team’s dressing room following a match in Cape Town. Wright is accused of harbouring fan Pavlos Joseph, who walked into the English locker room and lectured David Beckham and the team on a lacklustre performance in their draw with Algeria.
It emerged on Wednesday, when Wright made another brief appearance in the city’s special World Cup court, that veteran prosecutor Billy Downer had been assigned to the case.
Downer, a senior counsel, led the team that secured the corruption conviction of Schabir Shaik, and sought unsuccessfully to prosecute President Jacob Zuma on similar charges.
He is a deputy director of public prosecutions in the Western Cape.
Downer told magistrate Joe Magele on Wednesday that the last time the case was in court, it had been postponed for further investigations and for Wright’s legal team to make representations to prosecutors on the withdrawal of charges.
The investigations were now complete, and the Western Cape director of public prosecutions had decided “not to accede” to the representations.
“Consequently, the matter is now ready for trial,” Downer said.
He said the trial had been arranged for July 10, and July 11—the day of the Soccer World Cup final.
But because the special court ran until 11pm, the case might be dealt with on the first day.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to finish the matter before the World Cup [final] starts,” he said.
His hope was echoed by Wright’s attorney, William Booth.
“Maybe we’ll be all back at home looking at the game on television,” Booth told the magistrate.
According to the docket, Wright faces charges of “defeating or obstructing the administration of justice” and contravening the Immigration Act—a charge related to allegedly false information in a hotel register.
Booth, who was flanked in court by Sunday Mirror lawyer Paul Motram, told the magistrate much had been said about an alleged conspiracy between Wright and soccer fan Joseph.
It had been said they had somehow colluded to try to place the security of Fifa or South African authorities “under scrutiny”.
Booth said he wanted to record publicly that there was no charge of conspiracy or collusion between the two.
He repeated this outside the courtroom, after Magele had postponed the case to 9am on Saturday.
“The whole issue of conspiracy has no basis,” he told reporters. “There was never any evidence of conspiracy between my client, Mr Simon Wright, and Mr Joseph.
“In fact they met after the incident, as a result of a telephone call made to the Sunday Mirror by Mr Joseph’s sister.
“So this whole issue ... has no basis whatsoever ... The evidence in fact confirms what Mr Wright says.”
Booth said he did not believe there was any basis for continuing with either of the actual charges.
Asked if Joseph might be called as a witness, he said it would be “a bit difficult” getting him to Cape Town for the weekend.
“We’ll just have to see how it goes,” he said. “If we have to call him, and we have to bring an application for the matter to be adjourned and for my client to return to the United Kingdom in the meantime, we’ll do that.”
Wright, who was on bail of R3 000, had earlier surrendered his passport to police.
As part of his bail conditions he had been ordered to have no contact with employees of the city’s Bay Hotel, and had to report daily to the Cape Town police station.
Joseph last week paid a R750 admission of guilt fine for a contravention of the World Cup’s special Fifa legislation, for being in a designated area without accreditation.
After the June 18 incident, the Sunday Mirror reported Joseph as saying he had been looking for a toilet after the game in which England drew 0-0 with Algeria.
It quoted him as saying he saw Beckham in the England dressing rooms and challenged him on the team’s performance.—Sapa, AFP