The murder of baby Daniel
Everybody has been following the horrifying case of baby Daniel. Today (3rd April 2019), finally, justice has been served. Through the severe sentences imposed on his murderous step-father including a life sentence, who in cold blood tortured and murdered this innocent child, and the lengthy jail term for the mother, found guilty of neglect and found to have “turned a blind eye”, Judge Collin Matshitse sends a strong message to our violent society that children have the absolute right to be protected and to be treated with love.
What is not public knowledge is the fact that this infamous criminal case against the mother and stepfather of baby Daniel was initiated through the persistence of attorneys of the University of Johannesburg (UJ) Law Clinic. University Law Clinics are often the unsung heroes in the drive for justice for the vulnerable in society. Working for free for the poor and marginalised, mostly for meagre salaries, the attorneys at University Law Clinic train law students through Clinical Legal Education, and at the same time also fight legal cases for people who cannot afford private attorneys.
Such is the case of baby Daniel. At the UJ Law Clinic attorneys Alet Beyl and Elton Hart, who practice from the Soweto campus of the UJ, specialise in children’s matters. They are often appointed by courts to appear and argue specifically on behalf of children in the Children’s Court. In the baby Daniel case Alet Beyl was busy arguing on behalf of children in an unrelated case when a Children’s Court Magistrate approached her in order to appoint her to represent minor children in what the Magistrate called, “a shocking case”. As fate would have it, these children were the siblings of baby Daniel, who unfortunately already died. Beyl, who found that she was already appointed in another Children’s Court case, suggested that she ask attorney Elton Hart of the UJ Law Clinic to step in.
Representing the children
Hart was consequently appointed by court to act as legal representative of the minor children. He then did an investigation to establish if the surviving children, and perhaps also the deceased “Baby Daniel”, was abused or neglected by the biological mother and stepfather. In a section 151 inquiry in terms of the Children’s Act that was conducted in the Children’s Court, evidence revealed that the stepfather, with the knowledge of his biological mother, might have abused the deceased “Baby Daniel”. Hart started to suspect that the mother and step-father might deviously have been covering up the traces of how often and serious baby Daniel actually have been assaulted.
Said Elton Hart : “Working at the UJ Law Clinic kept me in touch with our vulnerable communities and especially children who suffer as a result of choices made by parents and adults who are supposed to protect them.”
Uncovering the truth about baby Daniel’s abuse and death
Vowing that he will not rest until the truth about the baby’s death is revealed, Hart started digging deeper. Overhearing that baby Daniel might have been treated at the Raheema Moosa Mother and Child Hospital, Hart contacted a friend to look for information on injuries and treatment of “Baby Daniel”. The friend uncovered that “Baby Daniel” was not only treated at Raheema Moosa, but also taken to Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospitals for a fractured elbow and other injuries in 2015 as well. Hart obtained a copy of the record of injuries sustained by “Baby Daniel” around May 2016. The records strongly indicated that “Baby Daniel” had probably been abused. As a result of this information Hart started to uncover a pattern of abuse that “Baby Daniel” was exposed to by his biological mother and stepfather. The pair was covering their tracks by going to different medical facilities each time.
Eventually the Children’s Court inquiry relating to the siblings continued, evidence was led but the pair of abusers persistently denied that they abused “Baby Daniel” or any of the other minor children. Hart however requested Court to make finding in terms of Section 305 of the Children’s Act against them, in order for the pair to be held criminally liable for child abuse and/or neglect.
The SAPS trying their best
Hart then approached a senior judicial officer to request assistance to protect the surviving children. He was referred to the Mondeor Station Commander Major-General Rajen, who intervened in the baby Daniel case. Rajen, recognizing the seriousness of the case, assigned the inquest docket to Inspector Steven Joubert to investigate. Hart kept a close watch on the investigation and Inspector Joubert was in continuous contact with Hart to obtain information to assist with the investigation.
The persistence of Hart, as well as Inspector Joubert’s excellent investigative work eventually led to Joubert obtaining the go ahead from the Senior Public Prosecutor to charge the mother and step-father with the murder of “Baby Daniel”.
The Children’s Court in the meantime ruled that the pair is prohibited from having any contact with the surviving children pending the finalization of their criminal trial.
The mother denied under oath that her consort abused her and her children. For Hart this raised red flags. He prompted Inspector Joubert to check for any cases opened by the mother. Joubert then uncovered a previous case for abuse that the mother opened at the Mondeor Police Station. Upon hearing this, Hart immediately scheduled an appointment with Senior Magistrate Gangadu at the Johannesburg Children’s Court, to obtain an ex parte order to protect the surviving children.
In their bail application, Hart was called as a witness to testify due to the fact that the mother gave a conflicting version of events than the facts that she presented previously to the Children’s Court. As a result the stepfather was denied bail and the mother was granted bail but with strict conditions not to get close to the surviving minor children.
On Wednesday, 3rd April 2019 justice was served in the High Court in memory of baby Daniel, albeit too late to save his life. His siblings are safe and will hopefully grow up to have a better life. Hart modestly describes his actions as nothing special, and all in a day’s work of a caring legal practitioner.
Life carries on for Hart, Joubert, Beyl, Gangadu and the UJ Law Clinic. Tomorrow they will again deal with similar horrifying cases, all in the quest for justice for children, gaining no fame, commendation or special compensation.