I have been absolutely gripped by these proceedings via Twitter and the Guardian live feed, which has proved to be much quicker and informative than the BBC’s. Reading the testimony from the court really allows one to follow the legal arguments much better than reading the news reports afterwards which have unfortunately, but predictably, majored on hearsay.
Yesterday I wrote that fact is usually stranger than fiction and then things became simply surreal. It turned out that the investigating officer, Hilton Botha, was himself on a charge of attempted murder after allegedly shooting at seven people in a minibus whilst drunk. His evidence unravelled in court too. The ‘testosterone’ was not testosterone – the police had not read the label properly, the house Pistorius ‘owned’ in Italy was in fact on loan. The victim’s phone records had not been seen, despite their importance to the case and in rank incompetence policeman Botha had contaminated the scene with his shoes albeit without ‘meaning’ to. The ballistics evidence presented to the court was not from a specialist and they could not prove that Pistorius had not put on his prostheses before firing the gun. In fact, the more you read, the more you get an absolutely terrible view of the police.
As I wrote yesterday, the police were attached to the theory that there was a row prior to the shooting and that was the motive and the premeditation. Their ‘witnesses’ turned out to live either 300 or 600 metres away from Pistorius’ house – the police weren’t sure. If I were magistrate Desmond Nair, I would have some strong words for the police and I think I would be forced to grant Pistorius bail. Of course Nair has to base his decision on the evidence presented to him and whilst there may be some doubts about the defence, the police have really screwed theirs up completely. What is not admissible as evidence perhaps is human nature and I, who consider myself to be one of life’s more argumentative individuals, cannot imagine a scenario where I went to bed and then woke up and had a row at three in the morning.
Although there are some things in the defence that don’t make complete sense, I don’t think the prosecution case has made a whole lot of sense either. On balance Pistorius should probably get bail and the prosecution should drop the premeditation charge. On the other hand, the magistrate, Nair, knows the eyes of the world are on him, and under that kind of pressure who knows which way he will hop. Granting bail would cause uproar. If he wants to play it safe Pistorius will go to jail on remand. I’d go with uproar – at least it would send the message to the police to pull their collective fingers out.
This post reflects only on the apparent legal process in the bail hearing of Oscar Pistorius.
I do not claim to understand the South African legal system. On a personal level it is a self-evident tragedy. A young woman is dead and many lives are in ruins.
It seems to me that fact is nearly always stranger than fiction, so it is understandable, I suppose, that the police in South Africa, investigating and seeking a trial on the basis of premeditated murder by Pistorius, maintain that there are flaws in his defence of self-defence.
The most obvious flaw is that there was in fact no self-defence needed and tragically Oscar Pistorius shot and killed his girlfriend whilst she was locked in the toilet of the bathroom in his home. The defence case seems to hinge on whether it is credible that Pistorius actually believed there was an intruder in his home. Perhaps the prosecution’s should really focus on whether he intended to shoot and kill someone through the toilet door no matter who it was in there.
Potential interpretations mapped onto the facts are unfortunately getting lost in the police’s attachment to their own theory that Oscar Pistorius intended to kill Reeva Steenkamp and the sensational, but hasty, evidence gathered to bolster the hypothesis. The prosecution maintain that the period for premeditation can be as short as the amount of time it takes to grab a gun from the side of the bed, (possibly put on one’s prostheses), walk to the bathroom and shoot through the door. It seems to me more likely that premeditation did not exist if we define it as the possibility to think things through before the fact. Fear does not usually allow for human cognition to function effectively. Factor in having just woken from sleep and darkness and it is highly unlikely many of us would be able to think straight. Premeditation implies some higher level cognitive executive function – shooting your girlfriend through a locked bathroom door does not.
Even if we accept that Pistorius was in the grip of fear, is shooting through the door whilst not knowing who was in the toilet a defence against the charge of premeditated murder, or does it just provide evidence for self-defence? Still, as the police want to show he planned to kill his girlfriend, they have produced a witness who heard shouting and shots. It turns out that the witness must have bionic hearing because she lives over half a kilometre away; added to which, she reported incorrectly on the number of shots she heard. The police presented to court evidence of a testosterone liquid in Pistorius’ house. The defence have said that it is in fact a herbal product – perhaps this one. Already the police are starting to look as if their having made their minds up within hours about the charge (Pistorius was charged on the same day as the event I believe) has materially affected the evidence presented in the case.
The police may be correct. This may be murder, but it seems that they are going about their investigations with their hearts ruling their heads. Reeva Steenkamp and her family deserve better than this.
The key question that may dictate Oscar Pistorius’ innocence or guilt is whether it is murder if you shoot at someone unseen, albeit through a door, when you believe they are a stranger that has entered your home. Prosecutors may insist, self-defence or not, it was a murderous action. The only conclusion to draw in this immediate aftermath is that the case is a horrific example of how humans with almost instant access to guns can needlessly destroy lives.
Over the last few days. There’s been meteors that fell in Russia and another that missed completely, murders in South Africa and London and horse meat in processed food. David Cameron has been doing his best impression of a talking head in India: that of a man saying what he thinks his current audience wants to hear and the Work Programme court judgement was mysteriously swept under the carpet in under 24 hours.
I am not a conspiracy theorist, but I do know this: the longer we allow ourselves to accept the constant diet of pap we are fed, whether it be via the media or the food giants, the longer we will be consuming rubbish in all its various forms.
This was the description Paralympian sprinter Jerome Singleton used to compare the current arrangements for races between single amputees, like himself, and double amputees like Oscar Pistorius and Alan Oliveira, the man who beat Pistorius earlier this week.
Jerome Singleton is not only an elite athlete who competes in the T44 100m final tomorrow night, he is also a NASA scientist, so I tend to think he knows what he is talking about. He is not the only athlete to think that the rules need tightening up.
Whole article can be read here
Several of the runners said Wednesday that while Pistorius’s comments were ill-timed, they supported his point that the IPC needs to re-evaluate and tighten the formula in the interest of fairness.
Singleton, a single leg amputee, even suggested that IPC should perhaps run races for two classes, the T44s like himself, and the T43s like Pistorius, Oliveira and Leeper. Of the 20 athletes that raced the heats, only five were double-leg amputees and three of them qualified for the final.
“The classes need to be split,” said Singleton, who upset Pistorius in the 100 metres at the 2011 world championships. “It’s not apples to apples, it’s like apples to pineapples right now. If they want to keep us together, they need to re-evaluate that formula.”
“We need to have an idea of the exact height for an athlete to run in, and maybe have a variation of like one centimetre, so you know you’re racing the same athlete in all competitions. Single-leg amputees, we don’t have too much maneouvring when it comes to height.”
“As time changes, science changes, so we have to make sure it’s fair to all competitors.”
Single-leg amputee Alister McQueen of Calgary, who ran a disappointing 12.02 and failed to qualify for the final, agreed with Singleton that the formula needs to be changed.
“With the formula they use, they’re just not proportional,” he said. “Every person running here is not breaking any rules, they’re not doing anything wrong. It’s just that the rules leave such a wide vary of what they can do with their prosthetics. If they do tighten it up to where it makes more sense, I don’t think they’ll need to split up the classes.
“It’s one of the most exciting races in the Paralympics and we don’t want to get away from that. We just want to even up the field.”
Leaving the apples and pineapples debate aside, the T44 100m final tomorrow evening is going to be huge. Going into it, the British contender Jonnie Peacock is the faster qualifier; running a time today of 11.08 seconds that equalled the existing Paralympic record. That time is a shade short of his own world record of 10.85, set earlier this summer and this evening he was running into a strong headwind…
Tomorrow’s final has all the right ingredients for an unmissable race. A strong start is going to be key and that may be to Peacock’s advantage. We’ll see.
Unbelievably, I have read there is no mainstream coverage of the event in the USA? Is this really the case? A real missed opportunity if it is and one that should be rectified for the future.
In case you’ve been on Mars for the last 24 hours, #Bladegate refers to the T44 category 200m final at the Paralympics last night, where Pistorius was narrowly beaten into second place by the Brazilian athlete Alan Oliveira.
Pistorius was not expecting to be beaten. Once into the home straight he was in splendid isolation with only the wind for company… until the last 10 metres. Oliveira came roaring up the outside to take the gold medal on the line.
Pistorius then complained during his immediate post-race interview that Oliveira’s blades were too long, giving him an unfair advantage. Then all hell broke loose: #Bladegate.
There are so many layers to unpick in this affair that it is fascinating. Firstly though, I think that it is important to note that Pistorius has had to fight his way in the world to get where he is and when someone is in that mindset any emotional reaction is likely to initially present as anger. This has led to the accusation that Pistorius is a ‘bad loser’. I don’t think that’s entirely fair. In the tv interview he clearly spoke from a heart that had just been more than a little bit broken, and our hearts are not always rational. If a ‘good loser’ constitutes someone who can smile while inside they are dying, plus feeling strongly that something is unfair, I would wonder about the honesty and integrity of that.
Still, Pistorius’s remarks were clearly mistimed and made in the heat of the moment; by this morning his head was in back in charge and he made a more measured statement. He still maintained his concern about the fairness of the blades used by his conqueror in the race in his conclusion, saying:
I do believe that there is an issue here and I welcome the opportunity to discuss with the IPC but I accept that raising these concerns immediately as I stepped off the track was wrong. I am a proud Paralympian and believe in the fairness of sport. I am happy to work with the IPC who obviously share these aims.
The International Paralympic Committee, who govern the Paralympic Games have just issued their own statement saying that they will not only meet with Pistorius, but that the immediate aftermath of the Paralympics is as good a time as any to revisit the rule book…
I have read some absolutely fantastic analysis of both sides of the argument. Here Channel 4 News FactCheck examine the evidence and their verdict is that Pistorious shouldn’t complain. Then I looked at *whispers* *hides face* this Daily Mail piece who point out that Oliveira did decide to change his blades to longer ones in the last 3 weeks, and that while these remain legal under the existing rules, last night he ran under 22 seconds (21.45 sec) for the first time competitively, on these new blades that boost his racing height by 5 cm. Coincidence?
The longer blades do cause athletes to have a slower start, Oliveira was left standing when the gun went off last night and was racing well in arrears, but down the straight the longer blades store more elastic energy allowing the athlete to maintain speed whilst using less energy than someone on shorter ones, like Pistorius. This is basically what we saw last night, but we also saw an optical illusion which someone who watches horse racing regularly will recognise – that of an athlete (or horse), out front, coming back to the field. In high class races, where everyone is performing to their optimum ability, this slight slowing in front is entirely imperceptible, you can only see the others appearing to accelerate. In these instances, only fractional times can tell the whole story. There aren’t many fractional times for a 200m sprint, but it is reported that Pistorius ran a much quicker first 100m than the second 100m. For Oliveira, with the slow start, it was the reverse.
This is probably because the longer blades do give you an advantage in the straight, but this offset by running more slowly at the start and whilst runnning the bend. It’s down to the athlete which tactics they want to employ. Oliveira and his team, by switching to the longer blades only three weeks ago, took a gamble. It paid off, just. Pistorius’s gamble was running a very fast half of the race, he then paid for attacking the first 100m by having to slow down a bit in the closing stages. His gamble did not pay off, but again, it was so close. This would have only made it worse from his point of view.
Pistorius raced on the blades he ran on in the Olympics. Under the rule book he too could go for longer blades – his maximum permitted height on racing blades, as things stand, would take him to 193 cm tall. His current blades means he stands 184 cm. He could add an extra 9 cm to his height and this would mean if Oliveira stuck with his current prostheses at 181 cm, Pistorius could gain a 12 cm height advantage over his rival. Of course, it is not standing taller that necessarily gives the advantage, it is the longer blade being used, and that advantage has to be traded off against the slower start.
I can’t help wondering, in the battle of the double-bladed runners like Pistorius, Oliveira and Richard Whitehead, where this leaves those athletes with one of their own legs and one blade. Is the leg the limiting factor to their performance? Still, I can see where Pistorius was coming from. Basically, his rival gained 5cm more of blade runner and considerably improved his performance. This might have happened anyway. I think it is fair enough for him to request that a cause and effect scenario be ruled out.
The current rules also seem to allow for a huge differential in blade lengths – after all Pistorius could legally add up to 9 cm to his racing blades. He might regret not switching to longer blades in the Paralympics now, but as an athlete who has battled so hard to prove that his blades do not give him a mechanical advantage over a non-Paralympic athlete you can see why he stuck with his Olympic-approved ones.
I suppose what will happen now is that we will thankfully continue to be astounded by the performances of all the Paralympians and this controversy will die down. The IPC will then meet behind closed doors and I’d take a short price about them severely reducing the range of centimetres you can add to your blades prior to a competition. I’m not a physicist, but it is probably possible to work out a set of equations for the energy stored in each millimetre of blade, depending on the materials used in its manufacture and the allowances for weight and speed etc. The trouble is that the science on the ‘blade runners’ so far is ‘inconclusive’ and for these athletes, who train to their physical limits and spend years preparing for events like this, that simply won’t do.
I constantly spelled Oscar Pistorius as ‘Pistorious’ in the drafts. I hope I’ve got rid of all the misspelling, apologies if not. I think it is because, in my mind, it should follow the -ious suffix rule e.g. imperious, notorious…