WHAT started off as a peaceful Saturday morning walk in Burman Bush with their dogs turned into a horror discovery for Morningside residents John Roome and his wife, Nirmi Ziegler when they found the body of Simon Milliken lying on a path in the reserve.
Roome explained that the couple had delayed their walk on Friday afternoon and instead set off into the reserve between 7am and 8am on Saturday morning.
“We took the bottom entrance and walked along the trail into the bush on the right. Not more than five minutes from the gate my wife saw a credit card on the path and commented that someone could have been mugged in the reserve. Our dogs were up ahead and started barking like mad. When we went to see what the matter was, we saw a body on the ground,” he said, recalling the horror of the moment.
Stunned the pair ran to the reserve office to use a telephone to alert police. Roome said he tried the first emergency number listed on a notice board in the office which, when dialed, was non-existent. He then called the second number listed which put him through to Westville Police Station, where an officer told him they would contact the relevant station.
“Officers from Durban Central arrived and I took them to where we had found the body. It was only when looking at the body again I realised I knew who the man was. It was Simon Milliken. Further around the corner on the path we found Simon’s binoculars, his bird books, his wallet, ID and his cellphone. His car keys were still in his hand.”
Roome said the police didn’t appear to be aware that police had been searching for Simon since Friday afternoon and late into Friday night and indicated they would have to contact Mayville Police as the reserve fell under its jurisdiction. He was instructed to wait at the top entrance of the reserve for officers from Mayville and lead them down to where the body lay.
“I asked them what I had to do then, whether I needed to leave my contact details with them but they didn’t have a notebook on them and used a scrap of paper from Simon’s belongings to scribble my details on,” he said.
According to Room, he had met a man who ran the paintball business at the reserve while he was on his way to meet the police who told him that police officers and dogs had searched the reserve for hours but had failed to find Simon.
“I find this absolutely unbelievable as he was lying on the path and would’ve been found in five to 10 minutes. He could’ve been found alive. I can’t stop thinking about it and the more I do, the more angry I get. I was told the man he was with when the incident took place had run up to the tearoom at Kensington for help but was ignored until eventually the security guards there listened to him and contacted the police.”
A member of the local community policing forum reportedly also offered to assist in the search with a tracking dog, but police turned the offer down saying they could not compromise the scent.
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Michel Schneuwly, Simon’s friend and colleague said he had been told the police searched from late afternoon on Friday until the early hours of Saturday and found nothing.
“I was told that on Saturday morning some pedestrians accompanied by their dogs found Simon lying on the path of the bush, not deep inside it. Could Simon have been saved if the police had done a proper search on Friday late afternoon or any search at all? The conductor who was with Simon told police the attack took place at 4pm, the fact that Simon did not come out of the bush should have been enough to launch a huge manhunt,” he said.
Responding to Simon’s tragic death, ward councillor Martin Meyer said a request had been made to the Parks and Recreation Department to temporarily close Burman Bush to the public until the municipality improved the security situation at the reserve.
“There are no words that can bring comfort to a family or community when a terrible tragedy as befell Simon Milliken on Friday evening occurs. For the last few weeks headway had been made in improving security at Burman Bush and a solution was found for the fence problems. Long term plans included the setting up of a conservancy with the community to make Burman Bush a place for residents and tourists to visit. But sadly all of this is coming too late for Simon who had his life taken from him by a person who had nothing but ill intent.”
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Meyer also raised concerns of reports that the police were unable to deploy search dogs to assist with the search for Simon immediately after the incident was reported and instead his body was only discovered the following morning.
He indicated that he had raised the matter with Rishigen Virana MPL, spokesperson for Safety and Security for the DA in KZN, and they would be launching an investigation into what exactly happened on the night of 31 August.
“We will also ask why the community was not called in to help. The CPF and I would have been able to mobilise the community to assist with the search. It is important that we identify what shortcomings, if any, there were in the police response, so that those can be addressed and improved in future situations like this,” he said.
Colonel Thembeka Mbele, provincial police spokesperson confirmed that sufficient dogs and vehicles were available at the Police Emergency Services unit.