There was a bit of a hold up on the new by-pass just by the bend near the old Solomon Hotel and the traffic was queueing for about a kilometre. As they got closer Woolie could see that the cause was a police checkpoint ahead. Five or six police officers were stopping cars. The drivers were asked to open the boot compartments which the police quickly inspected. Woolie and his two companions watched the drivers ahead answer a few questions before being allowed to proceed.
It was 13:30 and the sun was high in a cloudless sky. Woolie manoeuvred the car through the roadblock and eased back onto the carriageway. As he quickly gathered speed the other occupants stared at the road ahead in an uneasy silence. The police had just informed them that they were looking for a nine year old boy who had been reported missing by his parents the night before. They had stopped at the hotel restaurant for a light supper at about 10.30pm. The parents were having a drink as they waited for their meal. The child had been playing on a simulator fighter plane near the hotel lobby. Moments later he had vanished.
It was Babu who broke the silence voicing what all three of them were thinking. “I hope they find him soon.”
It is a well established rule in law enforcement that the first few hours following an abduction are the most critical. The longer a person remained missing the lower the chances were of finding them alive.
They drove in silence for a further forty minutes before arriving at their destination. Woolie’s wheels crunched the gravel as he drove up the driveway and pulled up at the massive doors of a squat, gigantic mansion. The ugly two storey building was set in about ten acres of beautiful woodland with various mature ornamental and fruit trees and wild shrubbery. The air was filled with sweet birdsong that came from the tops of the tall trees. To their dismay, Woolie and his companions noticed evidence of recent deforestation. Eight or nine huge Conifer trees lay on the ground where the woodcutter had cut them down.
Commander Ruby Mwekundu got out of the passenger side saying to Babu, “I’ll go in on my own. I shouldn’t be longer than an hour if you guys wish to go sight seeing in the village.”
With that she walked up to the doors and pushed the buzzer. Woolie watched as she was let into the house by a lady with short grey-hair.
“That’s our plaintiff’s mother.”, said Babu as he got into the front. “Come on, Woolie, let’s drive into the village and get something to bite. It’s not far.”
Woolie and Babu found a small tea room near the market place. They ordered some large fluffy mandazi and a couple of hard-boiled eggs each to go with their huge tin mugs of steaming, sweet, milky tea.
Babu sipped his tea as he updated Woolie on the commander’s latest case. Ruby had come to see the lady at the mansion for a final briefing. Tomorrow the trial would begin and the lady would face the man she had accused of rape. Babu gave Woolie the briefest of details without mentioning any names.
According to the evidence it was a dreadful case. The lady lived in the mansion with her husband, an investment banker. Mr Banker had been drinking at a local pub one evening when a timber merchant had come along and convinced him that the conifer trees on his land were destroying the shamba by sucking up all the moisture and nutrients from his soil. In a few years the predicted droughts would reduce his shamba to a dustbowl blowing the soil away in a nasty storm and creating an ecological disaster. This would probably affect neighbouring farms too and they were likely to sue him for compensation. The greedy merchant told the panicking Mr Banker that the time to act was now, He pledged to cut down all the conifers and cart them away. Mr Banker had agreed. The following week the merchant had sent his oldest son to survey the land marking the trees that were for chopping. The timber merchant’s son had arrived accompanied by a man who was operating a powerful chain saw. The machine made such a loud sound it reminded one of a ministerial helicopter.
The heat was stifling on that day. The leaves on the tree were limp and the birds were dozing in their nests, too hot to sing. At lunch time the lady of the house had emerged from the cool interior bringing the two men some hearty food and lots of cold drinks. The men sat in the shade of a conifer whilst they ate. The lady went to the border to cut some roses which she took into the house. She then came back to collect the empty plates. She had then turned to the power saw operator and asked him to take the afternoon off. She said she was very hot and the noise of the wretched machine would not allow her to sleep. She explained to them that she was a nurse at the children’s ward and would be doing a night shift that evening. She said the timber merchant’s son could remain if he wanted to as his work was not making a racket.
The timber merchant’s son had then waited until the power saw man had left. He came up to the house, silently slipped in through an open window and let himself into the lady’s bedroom where he had subjected her to a most horrific attack.
Woolie could see and feel the anger in Babu as he narrated the events. He said, “It looks like a pretty straight forward case. The guy is obviously guilty. Why has it taken so long to come to trial?”
“The chap denies rape. He says it was all consensual.”, came Babu’s reply. He went on to explain how the merchant’s son believed that the lady really fancied him. Her sending that power saw man away was the signal he needed to confirm her intentions.
“Rubbish!” said Woolie. “no judge will buy that nonsense for a minute.”
“There’s another problem,” said Babu. “After the attack the man let himself out of the house. The lady was in such a state that she did not report the matter immediately. Rather she had gone straight into the shower. They only made a formal accusation at 11:00pm that night when her husband came back home.” Babu shook his head and continued. ”The man has admitted intercourse did take place so the lack of forensic is not too bad but he maintains his consensual story and says she may just have felt remorse at her unfaithfulness .“
Babu was visibly angry. He paid our bill and we drove back to pick up the commander.
Ruby was confident that we would get an easy conviction. She felt that the plaintiff was calm and reasonable and would be able to hold her own against the defence team.
They were speeding back to the city on the busy highway. At three o’clock there was a radio news bulletin. Police announced that the missing nine year old boy had been found safe and well. According to reports he had somehow managed to get himself locked in a cellar in an isolated section at the old hotel and it was not until someone thought to look there that he had been found. The car occupants had let off a loud cheer.
This amazing piece of good news boosted our three companions and they were happy and in high spirits as they bade each other good bye on their return to the city they all had great expectations for an easy conviction the following day.
It was the day of the trial. The prosecution was led by a smart and capable officer from Commander Ruby’s unit. The timber merchant had secured the services of a well known city law firm to defend his son.
The prosecution presented its case and showed how the timber merchant’s son had abused his position of trust and the hospitality of the plaintiff. He had taken advantage of the fact that once the power saw man was sent home the lady was vulnerable.
The defence kicked off by saying that whilst it may be the case that the plaintiff was “feeling remorseful” for betraying her husband accusing an innocent man of rape was a very serious matter indeed. They would refute every allegation that the prosecution had made.
The defence claimed that the lady had spent an enormous amount of time watching the guys at work from the kitchen window. It was claimed that she genuinely fancied the merchant’s son. They put the lady on the witness stand for cross-examination. The defence team asked if it was true that she had worn a very short skirt when she went to cut the roses. It was suggested that her reference to going to sleep was a coded message for the merchant’s son to come up to her room.
Woolie and Babu, seated up in the public gallery could not believe their ears. It was as if they were listening to a different case. The defence had one last bombshell to drop. They asked the lady whether she had quarrelled with her husband about the felling of the trees. She admitted that she had told the husband that the timber merchant was cheating him and there was no need to chop down the trees. The defence team then jumped onto that saying the lady would do anything – even make wild rape accusations to get the deforestation work at her beautiful woodland stopped!
So on that Thursday afternoon Ruby, Babu and Woolie watched as the case unravelled. The merchant’s son was fount not guilty and was acquitted.
Ruby and Babu went off to speak to some people and so Woolie decided to fetch the car round to the fron of the court buildings. When he came round Babu was talking to the successful defence lawyer. He introduced them, “Her name is Rubina. Their offices are just round the corner from here.”
As they continued chatting, a member of the public came out of the court building and headed straight to where they stood beside the car. She looked at all of them and shook her head.
She turned to Rubina and said very quietly that the others had to strain to hear her, “I cannot believe what you put that poor woman through in there. That man is a rapist and you guys have let him get away with it again. How many more times must he do it before you finally lock him up? He raped me when we were in campus, three years ago.”
There is a general feeling amongst many lay people that if an innocent man is imprisoned or when a guilty woman goes free it always has something to do with corruption. Surprising as it may sound most of the time miscarriages of justice are the result of some costly mistakes.