MILLIONAIRE businessman Shrien Dewani was sensationally cleared of the honeymoon murder of his bride Anni - while her outraged family shouted in disbelief.
Dewani, 34, who fought a four-year battle against extradition to South Africa to face his accusers, heaved a sigh of relief as Judge Jeanette Traverso dismissed the case against him.
The judge roundly condemned the evidence of the chief prosecution witness and said: “The accused is found not guilty of this charge.”
The decision was a huge disappointment for the family of Mrs Dewani, 28, whose maiden name was Hindocha.
In a statement outside court, the Hindocha family said: “We feel really, really sad because we have not heard the full story. Shrien lived a double life.”
Last week the Hindochas begged Dewani to ‘’tell the world what happened the night she died’’, with her brother Anish imploring him to take to the witness stand and tell his story for the first time.
Leaving the Cape Town court today after the judge ruled that would not be necessary, the Hindochas were clearly distraught and angry.
Prosecutors said bisexual Mr Dewani, from Westbury-on-Trym near Bristol, had long planned to get out of the relationship to Swedish-raised Anni, and arranged the attack in which he would escape unharmed and Anni would be killed.
But Dewani’s defence team criticised prosecution witnesses and said the case against him was weak.
Giving her ruling in Cape Town on an application by Dewani’s defence lawyer Francois van Zyl to dismiss the prosecution, Judge Traverso said chief prosecution witness cab driver Zola Tongo’s claims about the murder of Dewani were “riddled with contradictions” and “highly debatable”.
The judge said the evidence presented by the prosecution fell “far below” the required threshold.
She said the only reason not to grant the application would be in the hope that Dewani would implicate himself if he gave evidence.
But to do so would be a “manifest misdirection”, she said
Dewani, who was finally extradited this year to face trail accused of planning the murder of his wife in November 2010, listened intently as key evidence against him was criticised by the judge.
He heard the judge declare that the evidence from the three criminals already convicted over his bride’s murder was “so improbable, with so many mistakes, lies and inconsistencies you cannot see where the lies ended and the truth begins”.
She said the evidence of Tongo, who testified against Mr Dewani after entering a plea bargain, was “riddled with contradictions”, while others had lied on oath.
Members of Dewani’s family wept and embraced as the wealthy businessmen left the dock swiftly via the holding cells. Anni’s family bowed their heads amid shouting from the public gallery.
Dewani has always denied plotting with others to murder his bride, whose lifeless body was found in the back of a taxi in a rough township, on November 14, 2010.
Three men - Tongo, Mziwamadoda Qwabe and gunman Xolile Mngeni - have already been convicted for their part in Anni’s murder, when the Dewanis’ chauffeur-driven late-night tour of a township was hijacked.
The ruling brings to an end a four-year wait for Dewani and his family to clear his name - a battle which has included lengthy spells in mental health units, lurid allegations about his private life, and fighting extradition from the UK to face justice.
Dewani has yet to comment publicly on the case since extradition proceedings began, three weeks after the death.
Judge Traverso said it was crucial for the state’s case to prove that Dewani entered into an agreement with others to have Anni killed.
She said a defendant was entitled to be discharged if there was no possibility of conviction unless he entered the witness box and incriminated himself.
Tongo was the only accomplice witness, she said, adding that such evidence should be treated with “caution”.
Tongo’s version needed to be corroborated specifically where it implicated the accused.
Details such as where he picked up and dropped off Dewani and his wife did not provide corroboration, the judge said.
“It is what was said during these events which is at issue and for that there is only the version of Tongo,” she added.
She said the same applied to phone calls between Tongo and Dewani.
“This telephone communication does not in itself corroborate what was said during those calls, it merely confirms that communication took place.”
Dewani met Tongo in a hotel after the killing. Giving evidence earlier the cab driver said it was “nonsense” that Dewani bought him a thank you card and gave him cash out of pity for what the driver had endured.
But the judge said Tongo and his accomplices Qwabe and Mngeni were “intelligent men” and dismissed the prosecution claim that they would have carried out a contract killing for Dewani for “a few thousand rand”.
The prosecution alleged that the men carried out the killing for 15,000 rand (£830).
Qwabe is part-way through a 25-year jail sentence. Mngeni was serving life for firing the shot that killed Mrs Dewani, but died in prison from a brain tumour.
South African National Prosecuting Authority spokesman Nathi Ncube told reporters: “Justice is indeed about making sure that where there is a case we successfully prosecute it and where we think there is sufficient evidence to take the matter to court we do so.
“We have successfully prosecuted three people who participated - not just participated but were actually part of the planning and executed the plan.
“It is unfortunate that Mr Dewani has been acquitted because we believe that he was involved.
“And by the way, the court did not find that he was innocent, the court said it could not rely on the evidence given by three witnesses who themselves had been convicted of the crime.”
Mr Ncube also denied that the case had collapsed because of a “shoddy police investigation”.
He said: “The judgment centres around evidence that was given by three people. Nothing has been said about the police, nothing was said about how the prosecution could have done better.
“The fact of the matter is that we were relying on people who were themselves involved and implicated in the case.”
The judge confirmed Monde Mbolombo, a self-confessed “link man” in the plot, would no longer be granted immunity for his part in the plot.
The hotel porter admitted telling lies to the court to protect himself when the investigation first took hold. He had initially been granted immunity by prosecutors in return for being a state witness.
But the judge said: “As his evidence progressed it became more and more clear of his involvement.”
It will now be up to prosecutors to decide whether Mbolombo should face criminal proceedings.
Dewani is believed to have left the court, without making comment, through a side entrance.
Outside, supporters for both families clashed over the case, with the Justice4Anni group again questioning judge Traverso’s role as presiding judge in the case.
Anni’s sister Ami Denborg said: “The justice system has failed us.”
Eddie Classen, a leading lawyer with BDK Attorneys in Pretoria, said the case helped demonstrate the country’s legal system was fair.
It comes after another high profile case, that of athlete Oscar Pistorius, who was given a five -year prison term in October for killing girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. He had been convicted of culpable homicide but cleared of her murder, and is expected to serve about a year in jail.
Speaking after today’s verdict Mr Classen denied the evidence against Dewani was “embarrassing” in its reliance in part on criminals, and said: “The justice system is not just there to convict people, it is also there to acquit people who are innocent.
“The courts must be trusted. It is a cornerstone of any democratic society. This is a positive for the justice system.”