The Telegraph
Sunday , February 27 , 2011
Since 1st March, 1999
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Shrien’s innocent, ok?

Dan Newling is an exceptionally brave freelance British journalist in South Africa who wrote a piece last week in Britain’s Daily Express, proclaiming, “Why I believe Shrien Dewani is innocent.”

The article destroys the case advanced by the South African police who are seeking the extradition of Shrien, 32, from the UK and appear determined to convict him for the murder of his bride, Anni (ée Hindocha), 28, during their honeymoon in South Africa in November last year.

There was a scare last week when Shrien, who is on antidepressant pills, was rushed to hospital but his family denied he had attempted suicide.

Since this is still the murder gripping Britain, I got in touch with Newling, a former Daily Mail reporter who has told me this extraordinary tale which I relate verbatim:

“I was the first journalist to talk to Shrien Dewani. I spoke to him for about 45 minutes less than two days after it happened. He struck me then as a good man. And an honest one. But I must confess that he did appear to be a bit naive.

“Afterwards, when the rumours started circulating that he was involved in the killing amongst other, shocking things, I was able to compare these claims with my impression of the man himself. They just didn’t match up.

“Since that meeting I have covered every aspect of the story. I’m based in South Africa, so I’ve gone to every court hearing and read every official document. I know most of the people involved.

“From what I’ve seen, the case against Shrien is weak in the extreme. The police may have some amazing piece of evidence that I have not seen. If so, Shrien could be guilty. But I don’t think they do.

“The sad fact is that here, in South Africa, the press is not inclined to question the authorities too much. You have to understand that it has only been 17 years since the country was reborn as a full democracy after apartheid.

“South Africans, who are very proud of their country, are desperate for the place to succeed on its own terms. They are fed up with outsiders criticising the crime problem. There is a sense that it is unpatriotic to criticise the country.

“As such, many South Africans find themselves in an illogical position: they would rather that Shrien had committed the murder — and that therefore it could be true that anyone wanting to kill their wife in South Africa need only ask a taxi driver to do it — than the much more likely situation: that a criminally-minded taxi driver set up the whole thing and then implicated Shrien to lessen his sentence.

“The South African police have been heavily criticised in the past. But throughout apartheid and now, the judiciary has been proudly independent. I think Shrien probably would get a fair trial here.”

I have to say Newling’s analysis matches my own instincts — Shrien is innocent.

Megha Messenger

Having bought the exclusive German fashion label, Escada, when it filed for bankruptcy in 2009, for between 60 million and 100 million euros (£51.3m-£85.6m), Megha Mittal has taken on the task of reviving the company.

Escada, founded by Germans Margarethe and Wolfgang Ley in 1976, operates 182 of its own shops and 225 franchise stores in more than 60 countries worldwide.

“I would like Escada to become an iconic, global fashion brand,” Megha said in a recent interview.

Like her husband, Lakshmi Mittal’s son Aditya, Megha was born in Calcutta but they met as students at the Wharton business school in Pennsylvania. Their 1998 wedding reception was held at the Victoria Memorial.

A woman journalist interviewing Megha was impressed that the boss now wears only Escada as a brand ambassador: “With her discreet diamond stud earrings, French manicure and glossy, raven blow-dry, Megha looks ravishingly polished.”

It was reported that under Megha’s watch “Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli (Leonardo DiCaprio’s on-off squeeze) has been made the face of Escada’s fragrance”.

Megha has to ensure Escada is featured in the press, worn by the “right people” and continues to be seen on the red carpet, as for example this weekend’s Oscars.

Escada might yet come to India. If she drew up an Escada hit list in India, it would probably feature the likes of Raima, Priyanka (more Gandhi than Chopra), Soha, Sania and Saina and may be also Mamata.

Asked whether there might be an Escada sari one day, Megha enthused: “It could happen.”

Batting for Bahrain

Despite the recent demonstrations in Bahrain I have to say that, superficially, at least, Bahrain seemed a relatively benign place to me. The shooting dead of half a dozen demonstrators was a ghastly mistake, though.

However, it is worth remembering that out of the Gulf state’s total population of over 1.2 million, 3,50,000 are Indian.

Having gone to attend a wedding, one afternoon we were playing cricket in the host’s back garden where our enthusiastic appeals for leg before mingled quite harmoniously with the muezzin’s call to prayer from a mosque just over the fence.

What I remember from my meeting with the Prime Minister, Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al Khalifa, is that he seemed keen to attract Indian investment of which there is already a fair amount in Bahrain.

A British Indian businessman with substantial interests in Bahrain backed the Prime Minister: “They (protestors) are asking for the Prime Minister’s head but he’s the man who built Bahrain from nothing. When I went to Bahrain in 1972, it was nothing, a desert.”

A typical view is of an Indian businessman who has lived in Bahrain for most of his life.

Western television coverage, he said, was biased “They only show the protestors, there was hardly any reference to 3,00,000 people who turned up in support of the king. Bahrain is not the same as Egypt, Tunisia or Libya.”

Sachin’s story

Rob Bennett’s 15-minute BBC Radio 4 profile last week on Sachin Tendulkar — “cricket’s best batsman ever, bar Sir Donald Bradman, possibly” — was fascinating.

There were contributions from former England cricketers Angus Fraser who said players would not try sledging against him since “there is a line in the sand you don’t go over”; Ed Smith who recalled “an act of quiet dignity” when Sachin got his first Test century in 1990; and Martyn Moxon who was impressed the Indian knew so much about Yorkshire where he was the first overseas player.

His mother-in-law, Annabel Mehta, spoke about the way Sachin has unified India — “he transcends all barriers in India. We have lots of different religions here, not just Hindu and Muslim. He appeals to young and old. He appeals to intellectuals and schoolchildren. He has something about him that appeals across the board.”

Tittle tattle

This should be a weekend to remember at the Oscars for all involved in The King’s Speech. Whether Tariq Anwar gets an Oscar or not as film editor remains to be seen but if the movie does well it will have been partly — or even substantially — because of the way he has put it together. To my mind, Tariq is the best film editor in the business.

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