In a dramatic conclusion to a four-day bail hearing, Oscar Pistorius is granted bail to await trial for the murder of his girlfriend. But women’s campaigners criticise “cheers” in court.
After a lengthy ruling, Magistrate Desmond Nair said that Oscar Pistorius had “reached out” in his affidavit describing his version of events, and after a pause, said: “I come to the conclusion that the accused has made a case to be released on bail.”
The Pistorius family let out cries of relief in the courtroom, and muffled cheers of “yes” were heard after the ruling.
After struggling to contain his emotions throughout the ruling, which lasted under two hours, the Paralympian sprinter showed little reaction to the final ruling. He left the courthouse in a silver Land Rover an hour later, tailed by photographers and TV cameramen.
Bail was fixed at 1m rand (approximately £73,000) including 100,000 rand (£7,000) in cash, and the date of the trial was set for 4 June.
The 26-year-old is charged with one count of premeditated murder over the 14 February killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.
The reaction in the court following the ruling was criticised by the African National Council women’s league.
“What is particularly distressing for the ANCWL is the reaction of some men in court who jumped up and celebrated the granting of bail as if they had won a trophy, forgetting that an innocent woman has lost her life,” the ANCWL said in a statement.
For the first time, two representatives of the Steenkamp family were present in court on Friday, sitting behind and to the left of Pistorius in the public gallery.
Mr Pistorius sobbed for much of the hearing, especially while Mr Nair read out his own version of what happened on the night in question.
The bail decision was delayed after it emerged on Thursday that the lead detective in the case, Detective Hilton Botha, is himself facing attempted murder charges for firing on a minibus full of passengers.
Bail was granted on the condition that Mr Pistorius hand over his passport and all firearms, and that he report to a police station every day. He has to refrain from drugs and alcohol, has been assigned a probabtion officer and correctional officer, and must ask for permission to leave Pretoria.
To be denied bail, the magistrate said that the prosecution would have to prove that the the accused posed a flight risk, that he would not try to influence or intimidate witnesses, or that he had a “propensity to violence”.
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel said that Mr Pistorius had the “money, means and motive” to flee the country, adding that his version of events was “improbable”, compared with the state’s case which was based on “objective facts”.
However Mr Nair said he had not been convinced by the state’s arguments for denying bail. He was also strongly critical of some of the evidence put forward by Detective Botha (who was dropped from the case on Thursday), including the fact that he did not check Mr Pistorius’ call to emergency services, he wrongly identified testosterone in the bedroom and miscalculated the distances that witnesses were said to hear the screams.
Speaking on behalf of the Pistorius family, his uncle Arnold told reporters: “We are relieved of the fact that Oscar got bail today. But at the same time we are in mourning for the death of Reeva with her family.”
He added: “As the family, we know Oscar’s version of what happened that tragic night and we know that that is the truth and that will prevail in the coming court case.”
The Paralympian’s coach, Ampie Louw, who described the athlete as “heartbroken” over the death of his girlfriend, said earlier on Friday that he could resume training next week to “get his mind clear” if bail was granted.
The defence case rests on the argument that the shooting was an accident, as Mr Pistorius thought his girlfriend was a dangerous intruder inside his home, lurking in a toilet stall off his bedroom.
Prosecutors told the court during the four day bail hearing, that the killing was was a premeditated murder, with Mr Pistorius firing four shots through a locked toilet door at a cowering Ms Steenkamp on the other side. She was hit in the head, arm and hip.
Medupe Simasiku, from South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), told reporters: “The bail application does not mean that this person is acquitted.”
Mr Pistorius, whose lower legs were amputated in infancy, was already a globally recognised figure when the 29-year-old model Steenkamp was killed in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine’s day at his home.
The case has seized the world’s attention and there has been intense focus on whether Mr Pistorius would be released, and if so, with what conditions.