Callan Heinz who last month played a sick joke on Air Botswana staff that the morning flight was in danger has been acquitted by the Village Magistrate Court.
It emerged in court that Heinz told a flight attendant that the morning plane was in danger and in the same breath said he was joking.
Returning a ?no case to answer? verdict, Gaborone Chief Magistrate, Lot Moroka, said Heinz had told a flight attendant, Tolani Palalani, that ?the aircraft was in danger? and that when Palalani recoiled in surprise, he instantly said he was joking.
?Can we then, therefore, deem this interaction between Palalani and the accused person an act not authorized by law?? he asked.
The fact that the accused had stated that he was joking, Moroka said, can not be erased from what he is reported to have uttered. The Chief Magistrate said he agreed that the plane was searched and the flight cancelled after Palalani called in the bomb squad following Heinz?s utterances, leading to the annoyance of customers and extensive media coverage both inside the country and outside. Moroka, however, said the Court could not be led by emotional outpouring but by what law says.
He said the commotion that resulted can not be blamed on Heinz?s joke but on the way the joke was handled by the airport staff.
The Chief Magistrate said airport officials never questioned Heinz on the issue before taking it further, adding that his joke did not constitute an unlawful act and cannot be said to be an offence.
Commotion at the airport, he stressed, was a result of poor processing of the issue by those concerned, adding that it was not an offence to utter a joke at the airport particularly if one stated that he was joking. Lastly, he said that the Aviation Act is no doubt a statute overtaken by events, particularly security related ones.
In his ruling, Moroka further said what was recorded on the charge sheet differed with what Palalani told the Court.
The state?s charge sheet claimed that Heinz had said the ?morning flight was going to be in danger? whilst on the other hand, Palalani told the court that he heard Heinz say, the ?aircraft was in danger? and later said that he was joking.
Moroka said this showed that the state was selective in recording utterances by the accused person on the charge sheet.
This difference, Moroka says, is problematic in that there is no synergy between the charge sheet and the evidence given in Court.