I have just heard from Peter Magombo, a lawyer at Blantyre Legal Aid Department who has been fundamental in getting the applications and submissions produced by CCPS interns filed and presented in Court, that a young girl wrongly accused of murdering her child has been acquitted.
I was first introduced to Tadala Major, when I was asked by one of the paralegals at CHREAA to interview her, as they suspected she had been the victim of a gross injustice. Mac and I interviewed Tadala in the female section of Chichiri prison; she was very quiet and confused, but it soon became apparent she had been arrested on suspicion of murdering her own baby, when in fact the baby had died from malnutrition.
Tadala told us how she had trouble feeding her baby as she was incredibly poor and did not have enough food to give to her child. As she was only around 15 years old, she had also had difficulty in looking after the child and so when the baby died, some elders in the community accused her of poisoning the child. The community police arrested Tadala and took her child to the hospital for a post-mortem. A few days later, the hospital confirmed that the baby had died of malnutrition, however as the police had already filed the case at the court, they decided to go ahead with the charge.
As usual, there was no case file at the prison or with the legal aid department, so I spoke to the police officer in charge and asked her if I could see a copy of the file. I was pleasantly surprised when she offered to bring the file with her on her next visit to the prison. However, after various arranged meetings at the prison over the next couple of weeks, I received a telephone call saying the officer was not allowed to release the case file from the police station as a matter of ‘policy’. I found this apparent concern for procedure hard to believe, as my prior experience of the police case file system was that there was no system; in most instances, case files were treated as a luxury not as a necessity.
I arranged with the officer in charge to drive to the police station a few miles outside of town and pick up the file myself. After driving half way there, I received a call informing me that the file had now been sent to the prosecutors office; I was given the distinct impression they did not want me to see this file. Luckily, I had a contact at the prosecutors office who very kindly arranged for me to have a copy of the file. Unsurprisingly, the post-morten report was not in the file, however reference to the results was made in one of the police reports, which was enough for me to draft a submission of no case to answer.
After 6 months imprisoned after losing her baby to poverty and malnutrition, Tadala was acquitted and released from prison today. Thank you to Peter Magombo who filed this application and made a successful submission of no case to answer.