A retired police officer told Oscar Pistorius' murder trial yesterday his colleagues were clumsy handling evidence and even stole a luxury watch from the crime scene.
Former station chief Giliam van Rensburg, who was among the first to attend the killing and was the officer who arrested Pistorius, retired last year.
He testified that an officer handled Pistorius's gun without gloves and that a watch worth up to US$10,000 went missing, calling into question the police's handling of the investigation.
The officers' conduct could have a strong bearing on the trial, if Judge Thokozile Masipa believes vital forensic evidence was so tainted as to be inadmissible.
Van Rensburg took the court through photos taken shortly after Reeva Steenkamp was shot in the early hours of February 14 last year. They included gruesome images of the 29-year-old model's fatal head wound and photos of a shirtless Pistorius covered in blood shortly after the shooting.
In several pictures the Paralympian is seen standing in his garage, expressionless and staring straight at the camera, wearing blood-soaked blue shorts and with dried blood on his left arm. The former officer testified that experts examined a blood-splattered box containing eight timepieces - but that one went missing even after he warned his officers against theft.
"I saw those watches and I said this is tempting for any person because these are expensive watches," he told the court.
Van Rensburg described his reaction when he was later told a watch was gone. "I said, 'I can't believe it. We were just there. How can this watch be gone?'"
Body and vehicle searches failed to turn up the watch and a theft docket was opened, he said, adding: "I was furious."
Van Rensburg said he later found another policeman mishandling the 9mm pistol that was used to kill Steenkamp and was left on the blood-soaked bathroom mat. "At that particular moment the ballistics expert was handling the firearm without gloves," Van Rensburg told the court, adding that the expert had already removed the magazine.
Under cross-examination Van Rensburg further conceded several contradictions between his statements and those of other officers at the scene, saying some of his colleagues had submitted hearsay evidence.
At one point he expressed shock at evidence given by colleague Hilton Botha, shouting out "amazing" and disputing Botha's version. During the bail hearing last year, Botha admitted walking through the scene without protective footwear and missed a bullet in the toilet bowl.
Pistorius, 27, denies murdering Steenkamp, saying he shot the model through the locked bathroom door after he mistook her for an intruder.