Dewani cleared of honeymoon murder... but devastated family of his wife now plan to sue him
Four years after his wife was murdered on an extravagant South African honeymoon in a crime that plunged him into mental illness, Shrien Dewani yesterday walked free after a judge ruled that prosecutors had failed to build a case that he was behind the killing.
The millionaire care home owner - who had apparently already packed his bags in anticipation of an acquittal by Judge Jeanette Traverso - gave a sigh of relief as he was told that the key evidence against him, from a group of men already convicted of the fatal shooting of Anni Dewani, was "riddled with contradictions" and there was no prospect of a conviction.
But as the 34-year-old businessman last night prepared to return to Britain, after a two-year fight against extradition for a two-month trial that collapsed before he could be asked to speak in his own defence, he did so into a headwind of recrimination and the deep sorrow and frustration of his dead wife's family, who said they were now considering a civil case against him.
There had been screams and shouts in the Western Cape High Court as Mr Dewani was declared not guilty. Speaking on the steps outside, Anni's sister Ami Denborg said her family would be "haunted" by the decision to acquit the man who had been accused of arranging the 28-year-old's murder.
Visibly fighting her emotions, she said: "We came here looking for answers and the truth and all we got was more questions. We waited patiently for four years to hear what really happened to Anni… all we wanted was to hear all the events and the hope of actually finding that out has kept us, as a family, going. Unfortunately we believe that right has now been taken away from us."
Chief among those unanswered questions for the family was the matter which South African prosecutors had expected would play a vital part in their case that Mr Dewani had wanted out of his marriage and was prepared to solicit murder on his honeymoon to do so: his sexuality.
The businessman's lawyers had acknowledged on the opening day of his trial in Cape Town his bisexuality and predilection for sex with men including a German gay escort. But it was a secret he had kept hidden from his wife and others until after he was bundled from a hijacked taxi in the township of Gugulethu on 13 November 2010 and Anni driven off to her death.
Amid lewd revelations about the defendant's sex life, prosecutors alleged he had been motivated by an inability to come to terms with his sexuality and resolved to murder his wife. It was an explanation he denied, insisting he had been in love with Anni. In a blow from which the prosecution case did not recover, Judge Traverso ruled that evidence of the sexual duplicity of Mr Dewani was "irrelevant". But the Hindocha family said they were still left grappling with the reasons for his betrayal.
Anni's uncle, Ashok Hindocha, said the family would be consulting their lawyers to see whether a lawsuit for civil damages could be filed against Mr Dewani in the UK.
"We would have preferred to have known about his sexuality before he married our precious Anni," he said. "She gave herself to him, mind, body and soul and she hoped to have been cherished and loved. But she would not have married him if she had known about his secret sex life with male prostitutes."
Mr Dewani, from Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol, had betrayed little emotion throughout the trial. He bolted from the dock to freedom through the court's holding cells as members of his family in the courtroom embraced. He later left through a side entrance without offering any comment.
In a ruling that took three hours to read out, Judge Traverso said it was failings in the testimony of three men convicted of the killing - chief among them the cab driver Zola Tongo - that were the principal reason for the collapse of the prosecution.
The judge said that the evidence of the three men was "so improbable, with so many mistakes, lies and inconsistencies you cannot see where the lies ended and the truth begins".
She added that the prosecution case had fallen "far below the threshold" of what a reasonable court could convict on.
Prosecutors denied that the case had collapsed because of a "shoddy police investigation". But they added there would be no appeal against the acquittal.
For the Hindocha family, it seemed there was no such luxury of closure.