May 28, 2024


4 min read

More skeletons tumble out of LCS closet

More skeletons tumble out of LCS closet

Maseru Central Correctional Institution (MCCI)

Story highlights

    Witness says no patrolling rounds were conducted by officers on duty the night of the inmates’ escape
    He could not rule out possibility of conspiracy between inmates and officers as some officers are friends with prisoners

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ASSISTANT Superintendent Vincent Mabathoana of the Lesotho Correctional Services (LCS) says officers do not conduct patrolling rounds, and if they do, they do not record them.

This oversight, he noted, fails to ensure everything is in order within the Maseru Maximum Prison premises and that patrol officers are stationed at the maximum tower to guard the area.

Mabathoana was testifying this week at the prison premises in an ongoing commission of inquiry investigating the prison break of December 21, 2023, which resulted in the death of one inmate and left another with a fractured leg.

He told the commission, which is spearheaded by High Court judge Realeboha Mathaba, that according to the records, no patrolling rounds were conducted by officers on duty the night of the inmates’ escape, indicating a lapse in checking the premises' security.

The three-man commission also consists of lawyer and also diplomat, King’s Counsel (KC) Kelebone Maope, alongside retired LCS Commissioner Mojalefa Thulo.

In the Maximum Occurrence Book (OB) on December 21, 2023, Chief Officer Mokotla Thamae and Sergeant Sekhohola Tšoeu recorded their arrival at work at 6 p.m.

The record shows that at 9:45, inmates escaped from cell 23, and Chief Lepetla informed Mabathoana about the escape.

“In the Central Record Book, the escape was recorded at 2 a.m., six inmates had escaped, and two were captured, as recorded by Chief Officer Lepetla,” Mabathoana explained.

He testified that, according to the records, the officers did not make their rounds that night. “We are required to record all activities. Regardless of the time, up until we start our shift, we must inspect the cells, windows, and surroundings to ensure everything is in order. Traditionally, we wait for lights-out to begin our inspection rounds,” Mabathoana stated.

He mentioned that the lights were switched off at 9 p.m., and the officers took turns patrolling the area, but there were intervals of five to 10 minutes or more when no one was patrolling.

“We have not deployed officers to guard the maximum tower since the members of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) left. However, after the escape, we started deploying officers to that tower. We received two officers from the SWAT team before the recruits arrived,” Mabathoana also said.

He added that officers were not sent to the tower due to staff shortages.

“That night, one officer was in hospital, and another was guarding the CTC (Correctional Treatment Centre),” he said.

He acknowledged that the need for guarding the maximum tower became evident after the inmates escaped. “We realised it was crucial to have officers guarding that area,” he said.

He could not rule out the possibility of a conspiracy between inmates and officers. "I cannot deny it because some officers are friends with the inmates, while others are very strict,” he noted.

Tšoeu testified that on the night of the escape, he was with Thamae, Assistant Correctional Officer Lethole, Correctional Officer Tebang Mosunkuthu, and a gatekeeper.

“There was nobody at the maximum tower. At 9 p.m., we switched off the lights for the inmates to sleep. Before the lights were off, the inmates were singing. I instructed Assistant Correctional Officer Lethole to turn off the lights,” Tšoeu recounted.

He added that after the lights were switched off, the singing stopped. About 10 minutes later, noise erupted from C block near the maximum-security area, lasting 10 to 15 minutes.

Investigating the noise, he found an inmate complaining about others wanting to smoke in their cell.

Another inmate complained that someone had promised him food but did not deliver.

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“We thought the commotion was caused by drunk inmates who had made an illegal alcoholic concoction,” Tšoeu said.

"I realised the commotion was a distraction to facilitate the escape from the maximum-security area,” Tšoeu added.

Inmate 'Ngoae Kotelo testified that Chief Officer Thamae assaulted him.

“After the other six escaped, the remaining four of us were moved to other cells. Sir Thamae interrogated me about the escape and then assaulted me with other officers,” Kotelo said.

He noted that, despite the assault, he was not taken to the hospital and only had bruises.

Kotelo recounted the planning of the escape, which began on December 15, 2023.

On the night of the escape, he saw Bokang Molengoane and Tumelo Mpopo break the air vent with an iron rod and use a 25-litre bucket to climb out. Kotelo raised the alarm, and officers arrived within five minutes.

The other inmates involved in the escape, including Mpopo, Aumane Nkoale, Molongoane, Seboka Motumi, and Rethabile Tlali, corroborated Kotelo’s testimony.

Motumi, who was shot during his capture, disagreed with Kotelo on one point:

“The lights were on when we broke the air vent but were off when we escaped,” Motumi said.

Station Commander Manaka revealed that Thamae refused to appear before the commission. “I informed him on May 9, 2024, about his summons, but he submitted an incorrect retirement letter and then fixed it the next day.

He refused to accept the summons at his office,” Manaka stated.

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