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  • 13 March 2014, 4:48

Pistorius Trial: Police Probe Under Scrutiny

As attention shifts to forensic evidence in the murder trial of Oscar Pistorius, the performance of the South African police is under scrutiny, with allegations that officers made serious mistakes.

The athlete's lawyers have produced photos which appear to show that the crime scene was not properly preserved and even marked with a footprint from an officer's shoe.

If the defence can prove their assertion that the police "contaminated and tampered with" the scene, it will damage the prosecution's assertion that Pistorius murdered Reeva Steenkamp.

Pistorius' legal team is expected to chip away further at the credibility of the prosecution case when the trial restarts at 7.30am on Thursday.

The focus has been on the toilet door, through which Pistorius fired the four bullets which killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, later claiming to have mistaken her for an intruder.

The actual door was brought into the court as Colonel Johannes Vermeulen, a police forensic analyst, said he had examined the damage caused when the athlete bashed through it with a cricket bat to reach his girlfriend after the shooting.

He demonstrated the swinging of the bat against the door and said he concluded that Pistorius was on his stumps - not wearing his prosthetic legs - both when he fired his gun and when he smashed the door down.

But the athlete claims he had rushed to put on his false legs before he broke down the door after realising that Reeva could be behind it.

The defence was quick to try to show that the height of the marks could be consistent with Oscar Pistorius's version of events.

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Then things became more uncomfortable for Colonel Vermeulen, as he was forced to admit that he had not done any tests on the door to establish if the athlete had first tried to kick it down with his prosthetics, even though the police knew that was Pistorius' account.

The forensic analyst had also not examined wooden splinters from the door - claiming not to had access to them - but a police photo clearly showed them next to the door when Colonel Vermeulen first examined.

More damaging still was another photo produced by defence advocate Barry Roux, showing a footprint - apparently from a police officer's shoe - on the door that was meant to have been so carefully preserved.

Other photos were shown by the defence documenting further marks that had appeared on the door in the time it was in the custody of the police.

Colonel Vermeulen was unable to explain any of them.

The performance of the police in the case was the subject of controversy early on in the investigation when it emerged that the lead detective, Hilton Botha, did not follow procedures and was facing charges of manslaughter.

Detective Botha was swiftly replaced.

It was clear that the allegations of police "bungling" would play a part in the trial but we now know that the defence has amassed evidence to back up those claims.

Further police witnesses might clarify the apparent errors, but it does not bode well for the prosecution - or the reputation of the South African Police Service - that the first representative from the force had such a tough time in the witness box.

::Watch day nine of the trial from 7.30am on Sky Newslive on Sky channel 501, Virgin Media channel 602, Freeview channel 82 and Freesat channel 202.

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