Exclusive: the family of the British honeymooner Anni Dewani, murdered in South Africa last November, accuse the Defence Secretary of interfering in attempts to extradite her husband.
Shrien Dewani is fighting attempts by the South African authorities to extradite him to face charges for ordering the murder of his wife Anni, 28.
A three-day hearing at Woolwich Magistrates Court has heard contradictory evidence about the safety of South African prisons and claims that Mr Dewani faced a danger to his life if he was sent to South Africa.
But it emerged at the weekend that the Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox, who is also a constituency MP for North Somerset, wrote to Home Office Minister Damian Green last month saying that Mr Dewani “would not receive a fair trial and might run the risk of losing his life while in prison”.
According to The Sunday Telegraph, Dr Fox asked that these fears be “given serious consideration before a decision is made to allow the extradition”.
But in an interview with Channel 4 News, Anni Hindocha’s family condemned his interference.
I have read that one of the politicians poked his nose into this and I am sorry to say that I disapprove of that. Ashok Hindocha
Her uncle, Ashok Hindocha, said: “I have read that one of the politicians poked his nose into this and I am sorry to say that I disapprove of that.
“It should not be political. It is judicial and should stay that way.”
Her cousin Komal Popat, has now written to Dr Fox, asking why he chose to make the comments prior to the formal extradition hearing when “the facts of the matter are yet to be established and decisions are yet to be made in a court of law?”.
Ms Popat wrote: “Secondly, I would like to know why you immediately presume that Dewani will not get a fair trial, and that he will be thrown into the South African prison system only to be murdered himself? I would like to know how you can jump to these conclusions and on what basis?
“Surely in such a high profile case the South African authorities would make every effort to ensure his safety but yet you collude with Dewani’s fears rather than actual proven fact.”
Statement from Dr Fox
A spokesman for Dr Fox told Channel 4 News: "Dr Fox received letters from a number of constituents regarding the extradition case and as is his duty as a constituency MP, he conveyed those concerns to the Home Office.
Dr Fox has been reassured at the prospect of a fair trial in South Africa if the extradition hearing were to be successful."
In fact, the South African authorities have taken the unusual step of releasing assurances from the Commissioner of Correctional Services that he would be held at Goodwood Correctional Facility in a single cell in the hospital section, while awaiting trial.
If found guilty and considered a medium risk prisoner, Mr Dewani would be transferred to Malmesbury Medium A prison.
Testifying on day two of the extradition hearing, Judge Deon Hurter van Zyl, inspecting Judge of the Judicial Inspectorate of Correctional Services, described this prison as “like a five-star hotel” with single cells, hot showers and access to television.
Earlier evidence from two experts on South Africa’s correctional institutions had, however, described gang violence as rife, rape and sexual violence as prevalent, and said there was poor healthcare and overcrowding.
It was claimed that he might also be vulnerable because he was youthful looking and well-preserved as well as being a first time offender and because the alleged crime “did not involve his own use of violence”.
Anni’s father Vinod Hindocha told Channel 4 News that his and his family’s lives had been changed forever by her murder.
Mr Hindocha said: “What we are looking for is justice for Anni. Of course, when Anni died, Shrien told us how everything happened and then suddenly I had to go to South Africa to find out what happened to my daughter and the picture was different from the South African justice system.
“The answer we want now is why did this happen to Anni. Shrien should answer these questions. Why this happened to Anni, what happened?”
Mr Hindocha said Mr Dewani should also answer all the accusations against him.
“If he says he is not involved in anything he should proudly go to South Africa and he should say I didn’t do it, here I am, give me a trial. I don’t know why he is not going. I don’t understand that.”
On the first day of the extradition hearing, the court heard that a witness was prepared to tell a murder trial that six months before the couple’s wedding in Mumbai, Mr Dewani had said he did not want to go ahead with the marriage.
Hugo Keith, QC for the South African authorities, said that the witness, who is understood to be a male German prostitute, had claimed that Mr Dewani had told him that although she was a “nice and lovely girl” whom he liked, he couldn’t break off the engagement because he would be disowned his family.
Mr Keith said the witness went on to say that he needed to find a way of out it (the marriage).
Ashok Hindocha told Channel 4 News that he had heard that Mr Dewani might be gay. “His defence was asking how homosexuals are treated in prisons in South Africa, which by other means confirmed this could be it and that is going to hurt us even more.”
Mr Hindocha said that if it was true then someone in the Dewani family should have told them and the marriage should have been stopped.
Mr Dewani adamantly denies that he is homosexual.
He is currently being treated for post traumatic stress disorder and depression in a mental health unit in Bristol. He appeared at the first morning of the trail and sat initially behind the legal teams apparently talking – or praying – to himself.
He was allowed to leave to return to the unit for the rest of the hearing.
It has also emerged that the couple were not actually officially married. The Hindu ceremony was cultural and there had been a civil, register office ceremony planned for March 12, but she was shot and killed before that could happen.
Anni’s family in the meantime say the extradition hearing should not be taking place, that he should go and face the South African court. They say that until he does, they will remain unable to start grieving properly.