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'Hit squad' ordered to stay away from witnesses

18 officers from the split Cato Manor unit were on Friday ordered to not have contact with witnesses.

The Hawks during a raid where officers from the disbanded Cato Manor Crime Unit were arrested on 20 June 2012. Picture: Supplied

JOHANNESBURG - The 18 police officers facing charges in connection with alleged hit squad activities in Cato Manor, Durban, were ordered to not have contact with any witnesses in the case.

The officers formed part of the Cato Manor Organised Crime Unit, which was shut down in February, after allegations emerged in the Sunday Times newspaper.

The Hawks arrested 20 officers during a raid on Wednesday.

The unit, led by Major General Johan Booysen, was accused of intimidating and killing some of the suspects they arrested.

The Durban Regional Court released the 18 officers on R5, 000 bail each on Friday.

The suspects were also ordered to report to their nearest police station every Friday.

According to one of the investigating officers on the case, some of the accused could be charged with dozens of other murders in the future, as only the first leg of the investigation had been finalised.

The men currently face a total of 71 charges which include 14 counts of murder, 14 of unlawful possession of ammunition and firearms, and four of house-breaking.

Charges against two of the accused were withdrawn on Thursday.

An investigation into the unit was launched by three separate bodies: the Hawks, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate and the South African Police Service.

All the accused have maintained their innocent since allegations against them arose.