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By Staff Reporter

A ZIMBABWEAN traditional healer and spirit medium who refused to provide a blood specimen for testing after being suspected of drink-driving now faces jail after having an acquittal reversed by the British High Court.

In what was described as a “bizarre case”, Nyararia Mukandiwa, from Dalton, Huddersfield, had earlier escaped conviction at a magistrates court after saying he could not give blood “for spiritual reasons”.

He was described in court as a licensed traditional healer from Zimbabwe, registered with the Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers Association, known as Zinatha.

He also said he was a spirit medium, known as a Mhondoro, and considered himself possessed by spirits, and therefore had to avoid situations that unexpectedly drove him into a trance.

Professor Richard Werbner, professor of African anthropology at Manchester University, had given expert evidence on behalf of the 33-year-old at Huddersfield Magistrates’ Court that “the sight of a corpse, extreme anger and the spilling of blood” could all send him into a trance that could result in violence to himself or the police.

District Judge Bennett ruled in September 2004 while sitting at Dewsbury Magistrates’ Court that Mukandiwa’s spirit medium role meant there could be “a risk to health” if required to give blood.

That was “a reasonable excuse” for him not providing a blood sample under the 1988 Road Traffic Act, said the judge, and refused to convict him.

Judge Bennett said: “I was satisfied that this man’s fear of giving blood
related to his going into a trance and the consequences for the police, who would not know how to respond to the situation, with which they would be totally unfamiliar.”

But last week, the Director of Public Prosecutions appealed to the High Court, and two senior judges ruled there were “fatal flaws” in Judge Bennett’s decision and Mukandiwa must be convicted.

During the two-hour hearing, Lord Justice Scott Baker, sitting with Mr Justice Newman, observed: “The district judge seems to have got mesmerised in this case.”

The alleged risk of blood causing a trance “could easily have been avoided by Mukandiwa shutting his eyes or looking away”, said the lord justice.

The evidence was that it was the “spilling” of blood which was the problem and might cause a risk to health. There was no finding that the “sight” of it was a problem.

Lord Justice Scott Baker added: “Even if he went into a trance, the district judge conducted no real analysis of the likely consequences, other than concluding Mukandiwa might be violent to himself or others.

“It seems to me to be a far cry from the evidence shown that to give a sample would entail a substantial risk to Mukandiwa’s health.”

The judge described how Mukandiwa was stopped by a police patrol after his Peugeot car strayed across a white line in February 2004 on a Huddersfield road.

At first the police gave him the benefit of the doubt over drink-driving
because a breath-testing kit was not available.

But he was arrested and taken to Castlegate police station because, as he went to drive off, he clipped the central reservation.

He was asked to give blood after he failed, through medical reasons, to complete a breath test at the station.

He replied: “I can’t give blood for spiritual reasons” and was subsequently charged.

Allowing the DPP’s appeal, Lord Justice Scott said the High Court had also been asked to consider whether the police should have been obliged to require the healer to provide a sample of urine, not blood.

But that issue never arose in the magistrates’ court and it was too late to raise it now - PA

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