Police deny killing Hawston poacher

A man who was with a poacher who died says authorities are responsible for his death.

Angry Hawston residents burnt the Overberg Canine Unit office building and torched seven police vehicles on 3 November 2012, over the death of an alleged abalone poacher who died while in police custody. Picture: Carmel Loggenberg/EWN

HAWSTON - Western Cape Police boss Arno Lamoer on Monday said police will not tolerate criminality to protect criminal acts.

Angry residents from Hawston fishing village went on a rampage shooting law enforcement officials, burning tyres and hurling petrol bombs at the police canine unit building.

They were protesting the death of a poacher who they said died in police custody.

Lamoer said police never laid their hands on the deceased.

"Firstly, the poacher was not in police custody. He was being chased by police and Marine and Coastal Management and drowned during the chase."

The young poacher, Steven Virgaji (19), was laid to rest on Saturday.

Residents insist he was alive when he was taken into custody.

Reports suggest he was poaching when he drowned in Onrus, outside Hawston.

Friend of the deceased poacher who was with him at the time of the supposed drowning said Virgaji was alive when he was pulled out of the water.

Russell Engelbrecht admitted to Eyewitness News he was poaching with the deceased before the arrest, but disputed that Virgaji had drowned.

Engelbrecht said he pulled Virgaji onto a Jet Ski while they were surrounded by Marine and Coastal Management officials.

He added that Viragji went with the officials, but his suspicions of foul play was confirmed after bruising was found on Viragji's body before he was laid to rest.

Meanwhile, Lamoer said officers will not be deterred from their work.

"We will not tolerate criminality to cover up criminality. The protesting from the community is from the police doing their jobs by arresting poachers and protecting the marine resources of this country.

Two officers and a 13-year-old boy were injured during the protest.

The 13-year-old was admitted to the Hermanus Provincial Hospital after being shot in both his legs.

The two officers were injured after trying to rescue dogs from the canine unit which was set alight.

Police brought in Nyalas to restore order.

Police Major General Peter Jacobs described the tense standoff as a well-orchestrated attack.

"As the police, we are clearly upset about it. But now we know it's a criminal element and not the community."

Police made two arrests on Sunday and the men are facing charges of attempted murder.

Seven police cars and a traffic vehicle were also torched.

Jacobs said they had evidence that police were directly shot at.

He added that no amount of community unhappiness could justify such an attack on the State.

Hawston ward councillors condemned the unrest, saying it showed that some residents had no respect for the police.