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Barend B.
Barend B., Legal Consultant
Category: South Africa Law
Satisfied Customers: 1356
Experience:  BLC LLB (Pret) LLM (Augsburg)
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I have 2 questions about the wrongful arrest of my wife on a

Customer Question

I have 2 questions about the wrongful arrest of my wife on a false charge of shoplifting, and her subsequent imprisonment in a crowded police jail for 1 night, then 4 court appearances over ~2 months before the prosecutor NPA finally dropped the charge (at her first appearance my wife had stated to the magistrate she was not guilty of the shoplifting charge). (1) Who should my wife sue (= Supermarket, their Security Guard Firm, or SAPS) and (2) how much is a typical, fair compensation for such incidents - as awarded by courts in Gauteng or South Africa in general?
Here are the details:
After paying for some supermarket items at the tills, my wife was stopped when walking to the exit door and wrongfully accused by the store's security manager of trying to shoplift a bottle of white wine. He did not act on her statement that the bottle in her bag she had bought at the liqour store - just before entering to the supermarket. She did not have the cash receipt in her purse, but invited the security guard to go with her to the liquor store - this outlet being just 15 metres away - as they would remember her and provide a copy of her receipt. He refused and detained my wife in the supermarket's back office, where a junior guard remained with her and later informed her that the security manager was probably reviewing the CCTV. While my wife was upset because the liquor store was now closing for the evening, she was comforted by any CCTV review as she knew she had not been near the wine section.
However, nearly 2 hours later 2 police constables arrived and arrested her, on the basis of the security manager's statement and the fact my wife had no receipt with her for the wine (the bottle happened to be exactly the same brand and type that was present in the supermarket, but it was cheaper at the nearby liqour store).
By now the liiquor store had long closed The police gave my wife 2 minutes to search for the cash receipt in a nearby rubbish bin, and they said it was not their job to review the CCTV evidence. When she pointed out her bottle of wine was warm while the supermarket's same bottles were refigerated cold - brought by the security manager to the police in the back office, to show them it was the same brand - the security manager said maybe her's was warm because it had not been placed in the refrigeration section. This was typical of his curt and essentialy rude & dismissive behaviour all that evening - he was fixed on getting my wife arrested, and not considering or even interested in the alternative evidence, such as checking with the nearby liqour store before it closed.
The 2 SAPS constables treated her as a criminal and arrested her - based solely on security manager's charge - saying it was not their job to look at the CCTV or judge the security manager's claim. So they locked her in the back of the police buckie and drove to the poice station, where she was put in a shared crowded cell for the night. In the morning she was charged, fingerprinted, DNA sampled and usual profile photos etc, then bailed out for 300 rands.
To cut the story short, my wife (a) got a copy of her receipt from the liquor store the next day, and later 2 witness statements from staff in this outlet who stated that indeed the bottle was bought by her. (b) found out there was no CCTV record - the camera that includes the wine section had not been working for some days - not even just broken down that night. (c) accompanied a SAPS community police Det-Sargeant to interview the security manager - who did not provide any clear reason when asked why he chose to ignore the option of visiting the liquor store befire it closed that night. (d) Believes that SAPS is not interested in following up on charging the security manager with perjury and essentially a malicious wrongful charge against her.
So who to sue? In the case of SAPS, the 2 constables could argue that they will heed the charge of a security manager of a large, well known supermarket chain, especially as my wife had no receipt on her at the time. In the case of the security firm - they are responsible for employing an evidently poorly trained, unprofessional security manager who acted with strange, malicious intent, and hiding the fact of no direct CCTV evidence.
The supermarket franchise chain & its particular owner - because (a) the store manager/supervisor on duty at the time paid no interest whatsoever to why my wife was detained and held in the back office for 2 hours before police arrived, when he must also be aware that a critical CCTV camera was not working; and (b) the supermarket chain and owner are responsible for the conduct and professional conduct of their staff and subcontractors (security staff) towards their customers. My wife was a regular & frequent customer at this store for many years - she was certainly no stranger.
Looking forward to your 2 replies - especially the amount of compensation.
Submitted: 9 months ago.
Category: South Africa Law
Expert:  Barend B. replied 9 months ago.

Good evening,

All 3 parties should be sued. In the first place the supermarket and security firm for the unlawful detention in the supermarket's back office. They only had a suspicion, without any shred of evidence. In the second place, the police for the unlawful arrest and detention, because after arriving on the scene, the police should have taken your wife's details and investigated the matter further. One could perhaps excuse the security and supermarket for not knowing the burden of proof in criminal cases, but the police should have known that they must be able to prove beyond reasonable doubt that your wife intentionally stole the bottle of wine.

The issue of compensation is a grey area. The presiding officer will award an amount that is just and equitable under the circumstances. He will look at the duration of the unlawful detention, the way your wife was treated, the embarrassment suffered by your wife (a psychologist's report in this instance would be helpful - indicating the trauma suffered by your wife) and then also your wife's standing in the community will play a role. Compensation could therefore be anything from R50,000 to R1,000 000. There are just too many variables to give a fixed amount.

Regards,

BB

Expert:  Barend B. replied 9 months ago.

Good morning,

If you are satisfied with my answer, kindly give me a rating.

Regards,

BB