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Judge varies bail condition for manslaughter accused

March 1, 2016 By Hassan Gbassay Koroma 

The presiding Judge in the manslaughter trial of one Francis Haffner, 59, at the Freetown High Court, yesterday varied the bail condition for eight police officers accused of the offence, from one hundred to fifty million Leones, plus one surety each.

John Bai Sankoh, Momoh Mahmoud Bangura, Gibril Bangura, John Karimu, Issa Sankoh, Alpha Conteh, Mohamed Sahid Kamara and Mary Naloh were arraigned on one count of manslaughter contrary to law, following the death of Haffner, who was arrested and detained by the officers before he was released the next day.

First accused John Bai Sankoh informed the court that the Master and Registrar of the High Court of Sierra Leone had refused to approve their bail, apparently because they were unable to fulfil some of the conditions set by the court. Thus, thus it came down to the discretion of Justice Miatta Samba to vary the bail condition.

State Prosecutor Umu Sumaray told the court that the state had amended its case and submitted that seventh accused Mohamed Sahid Kamara should have his name removed from the indictment as he was discharged on 17 November, 2015 at the Magistrate Court. She further applied that the accused persons be tried by judge alone instead of judge and jury.

The prosecution says the accused persons Friday, 29 May, 2015 arrested the deceased Francis Haffner at Common Ground, Robert Street in central Freetown, and detained him at the Central Police Station overnight, before he died shortly after he was released the next morning.

First prosecution witness, Hannah Brown, who introduced herself as wife of the deceased, told the court that she recalled Friday, 29 May, 2015 in the evening hours when she accompanied her husband to the Ark Community Centre at Robert Street to attend a church revival service, adding that she left the deceased at the revival and went to see a friend.

She said at about 10pm, while on her way home, someone informed her that her husband had been arrested by police officers and taken to the Central Police Station. She said she went home and informed her husband’s sister and that they decided to wait until morning to visit the police station.

The witness continued that at 7am the next day, she and son of the deceased, Francis Haffner Jr., went to the Central Police Station, and that they met the deceased outside the police cell. She said he started crying and complained pain all over his body as he alleged police officers had tortured him overnight.

She further narrated that at Central Police Station, she was introduced to the first accused Inspector Bai Sankoh as the officer-in-charge of the matter. She said sixth accused Alpha Conteh requested for the sum of Le300, 000 to bail the detainee, but parted with Le150, 000.

She said the first accused gave orders to the sixth accused to release the deceased only after they had parted with the money, but on condition that he report to the station the following Monday at 10am for the matter to be charged to court.

The witness explained that when the deceased was released on bail his condition was unsatisfactory, and that she had to ask his son to put him on a motorbike and take him home. She said the deceased requested for water to bathe at home, but couldn’t as he complained pain all over his body.

She said they decided to take him to the Connaught Hospital because his condition got worst, and that he died at the entrance of the hospital in a taxi they had hired. She said they again went to Central Police Station to make a report to the Local Unit Commander against the police officers on duty that night, adding that she also made statement.

The second prosecution witness, Allen Smith, also testified. He said he knew all the accused persons as well as the deceased, Francis Haffner. He recalled that on 29 May last year, at around 8:30pm, the accused persons, led by the first accused, arrested the deceased. He said he too was arrested after receiving few slaps from the third accused before he was bundled into a waiting police vehicle. He said the deceased was surrounded by police officers who forced him to enter the vehicle, despite pleading with them that he was just coming from a church service.

The witness said they were locked in a cell at the Central Police Station overnight. He said the deceased complained about pain and was heavily breathing and that an inmate informed one of the officers on duty and warned that the detainee could die if he was not taken out of the cell.

He said the accused was subsequently removed from the cell, adding that in the morning he and the deceased made statements before they were granted bail. He said he was later informed that the deceased had passed away.

The trial continues.

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