“South Africa is plagued by crime – often viciously violent, sometimes sophisticated and organised, often ridiculously random, but always audacious and contemptuous of the values we are supposed to believe in and the human rights enshrined in our Constitution …..” (Constitutional Court, below)
Unfortunately it is often the most violent and vicious of the criminal gangs who breach all our defences by the simple expedient of impersonating police officers. Regular readers of our newsletter will recall the traumatic story of a family who in 2009 fell victim, in their own home, to just such a gang.
The Constitutional Court has just written the final chapter in the family’s long quest through our courts to hold their security services provider liable for the nightmare experience they were subjected to.
The police imposters, and the guard who opened the gate
- To recap, a family with young children (aged 2, 5 and 8), having previously been subjected to the trauma of a home invasion robbery at gunpoint, fortified their new house with an extensive security system including electrified fencing, perimeter beams, multiple alarm systems, a guard house (with bulletproof glass), an intercom system with closed-circuit television, and an armoured pedestrian gate with a peephole.
- What should perhaps have been the strongest link in their new security system turned out in fact to be the weakest – namely a 24-hour armed security guard service.
- On the night in question armed robbers masquerading as police officers drove up the family’s driveway and demanded entry. The guard on duty opened the pedestrian gate, allowing the robbers to apprehend him and gain access to the home. They accosted the family and their household staff and stole goods worth some R11m.
- The family sued the security company for damages, winning in the High Court but losing on appeal in the Supreme Court of Appeal.
The final chapter
The family refused to give up and took the matter to our highest court – the Constitutional Court. Holding (on the facts) that the security company had both breached its contract with the family and was vicariously liable for the guard’s negligence, the Court declared it liable to pay damages to the family.
Home owners: What is the weakest link in your security? If you think it may be your security services provider, or perhaps the terms of your contract with it, take legal advice now. And call for help immediately if you are approached by anyone who claims to be a police officer but cannot produce an official SAPS appointment card (a white card with the officer’s photo under “SA POLICE SERVICE”, the SAPS logo to the right and officer’s name at the bottom; on the reverse, “APPOINTMENT CERTIFICATE”, “Sect 30 Act 68/1996”, then force number, name and ID with issue date and issuing SAPS signature).
Security service providers: Take particular note of the Court’s comments that “The community expects security guards not to give criminals access to guarded property. It is wrongful to do so” and “Security guards are trained to provide guarded protection and to detect nefarious ways in which opportunists may try to penetrate that protection. That is the core of their mandate…..In providing the robber with access to the property without attempting to ascertain his identity or business, [the guard]’s conduct thus in any event failed to meet the standard of a reasonable security guard.”