Pretoria – Taxpayers will again have to dig deep into their pockets – this time to pay R2.8 million to a man who was arrested for no reason by the police and detained for seven months before all charges were withdrawn against him.
The police admitted 100% liability towards Jan Wolmerans, 29, of Parys in the Free State.
It is not clear on what charges he was arrested, but it related to a cash loan business he had operated with his brother.
Wolmerans said he was at home in April 2011 when the police barged in. They sprayed some form of gas into the house and violently arrested him. His protests that he had done nothing wrong fell on deaf ears. He was detained in a police cell for a month and then locked up in a prison for 226 days.
A clinical psychologist, Professor Jonathan Scholtz, who also testified on behalf of Oscar Pistorius in his murder trial, said that being locked up was a harrowing experience for Wolmerans, who had also had a difficult childhood.
He found the body of his father who had committed suicide, and shortly after that he witnessed his malnourished mother die.
Wolmerans told Scholtz that he still got flashbacks from the filthy and dangerous circumstances in jail. He received threats from fellow inmates and was mostly confined to his bed, which he regarded as his safe place.
He was asked to intervene when a fellow inmate was threatened with rape, but he was too afraid to help. He said he witnessed assaults in jail and he had fleas in his blanket and mattress and there were bad odours around him.
Wolmerans said fellow inmates robbed him of his food and he was kept with dangerous men in a tiny cell.
He told the psychologist he was not only robbed of his freedom, but also of his self-esteem. He was humiliated and embarrassed as he was treated like a criminal, yet he had done nothing wrong.
Judge Winston Msimeki said Wolmerans was held in jail for no reason and under appalling conditions.
“You do not get arrested and detained and come out of there being the same person,” the judge said.
He concluded that Wolmerans deserved R2 700 000 in general damages and R100 000 for future medical expenses relating to counselling.