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High Court blocks arrest of collapsed Huruma building owner

The owner of the building which collapsed in Huruma estate killing five tenants got a reprieve on Tuesday after the High Court in Nairobi barred the police from confining her in custody.

Ms Margaret Magiri Mwaura moved to the court under a certificate of urgency to cushion herself against possible confinement in connection with ongoing investigations into the January 4 incident on grounds that she “is disabled, sickly, suffering from Asthma, Arthitis and high per tension”.

“There have been several telephone calls to her relatives and neighbours which are strongly believed to have been made by the police to the applicant threatening her with arrest and confinement,” her lawyer Johnson Ondego told the court.

REPORT TO INVESTIGATORS

Justice Rosyln Korir however clarified that she must present herself to the police within 24 hours in the company of her lawyer and continue reporting to investigators whenever required.

In addition, the “police had only been barred from detaining her but not from charging her with an offence” pending the outcome of investigations.

The prosecution, while opposing Ms Magiri’s application for anticipatory bail, said her apprehensions were unfounded and that it was premature to speculate on the outcome of the investigations as she may be treated as “a suspect or a witness” depending on the outcome of the probe.

Lawyer Odengo was on Tuesday hard pressed to explain why his client “was not the first person to assist the police with investigations” since the building collapsed a week ago.

He said she has been apprehensive that she may my be “booked in cells and tortured.”

“The communication has been intimidating. There has been talk that he may be charged with murder…My client has documents showing that she complied with the law regarding the physical planning but has been fearing arrest in connection with the building which collapsed,” Mr Ondego said.

GONE INTO HIDING

In a replying affidavit, a state counsel had argued that the landlady had gone into hiding and had failed to present herself for questioning.

But her lawyer said she had not been formally contacted and had only come to learn that she was being sought through press reports.

“She had reasonable apprehension that she would be taken into custody and possibly tortured,” the lawyer submitted.

He said Ms Magiri was only seeking “safeguards” and was ready to abide by whatever conditions the court may peg to the reprieve.

A state counsel said there was no reason whatsoever to prevent the police from taking her in as “she was the sole custodian of documents relating to the construction of the building that also form a basis of the investigation.”

The prosecutor told the court that so far it has been established that “construction went on without approval.”

“ She is in possession of key documents which will help determine whether construction was approved or not , we do not know the nature of information she has ,’ Ms Margaret Ngaluka said.