Shrien Dewani, a honeymoon murder and the dead hand of Max Clifford

WHEN Max Clifford took on Shrien Dewani as a client four years ago, there was every chance of a long prison sentence. Few, though, expected Clifford would be the one languishing in a cell at the conclusion of Dewani’s trial.

Scroll back four years and Dewani, a British businessman holidaying in Cape Town with his new bride, quickly went from being the innocent victim of a honeymoon hijacking, to the chief suspect in her murder.

It was a sensational plot development and a story that had everything, allowing us all to play the role of armchair detective. Why would you go to one of Cape Town’s most dangerous townships at the dead of night? Why had Dewani been left unscathed by the side of the road while his bride was shot dead in the back of a taxi? Could he not have done more to save her? Plenty of journalists were quick to point the finger of suspicion.

Dewani, The PHA Group

‘Image courtesy of Global Panorama on Flickr’

I was Deputy Editor of The Sunday Telegraph at the time and, like everyone, was intrigued by the case. But I remember being troubled by the idea that, just 30 minutes after meeting him for the first time, Dewani had asked a taxi driver to murder his wife. Either the man was unbelievably reckless or the whole thing was wildly implausible. It was one of the elements that made the story so compelling.

We asked the paper’s chief reporter, Robert Mendick, to investigate. His article in December 2010, ten days after Dewani’s arrest, raised questions over the police case against the British businessman. Ballistics evidence seemed to suggest a struggle in the back seat of the taxi rather than a cold-blooded execution.

Two years later, Robert again highlighted inconsistencies in the case against Dewani, revealing he had not even reached his hotel in Cape Town at the time when he was alleged to have already met the taxi driver and paid him to murder his bride.

In the four long years between Anni Dewani’s murder and the collapse of her bridegroom’s trial, it became a battle between rival spinners just as much as rival lawyers.

No one could fail to feel sympathy for Anni’s family as the quest for truth proved interminable – and elusive. They were convinced their son-in-law’s homosexuality was key to their daughter’s murder and made no secret of the fact to any journalist who came calling. Meanwhile, Clifford had a good deal of success in drawing attention to the flaws in the police investigation – even if his claims that Dewani had never been in a homosexual relationship were shown to be untrue.

Ultimately, that made no difference; the case unravelled in a Cape Town court. Dewani is a free man with a story to tell. Ironically, Clifford is in a jail cell with no opportunity to sell it.

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