Sob‚ giggle‚ stutter‚ hesitation? Van Breda’s chilling emergency call goes under the microscope


Was it a sob or a giggle? And why was he so calm when his family had been axed?

These were the questions flying in the High Court in Cape Town on Wednesday after the chilling call that Henri van Breda made to emergency services was played.

It was from the morning of January 27‚ 2015‚ when his parents and brother lay dead and his sister was fighting for her life.

Call centre operator Janine Philander testified that she was convinced Van Breda’s call was a prank because he was “hesitant”‚ “cool as a cucumber”‚ “calmly gave details of the attack”‚ and set the tone early in the conversation with “a giggle”.

She said about one in seven of the calls they received were hoaxes‚ and Van Breda’s demeanour matched those of other pranksters.

Defence counsel Piet Botha argued that those were merely her interpretations‚ and claimed the “giggle” was a stuttered form of the word “please” in one instance‚ and a sob in the other.


Judge Siraj Desai said he “clearly heard” some stuttering during the call‚ but Philander said to her it sounded like “hesitation” and that she heard no trace of stuttering.

Desai pointed out to Botha that it came down to personal interpretation and that Philander was entitled to a different opinion and had answered the questions.

Philander: “It sounded to me like he was hesitant‚ that he was thinking of what to say.”

Botha: “The fact that he remained polite is now working against him?”

Philander: “He sounded the same throughout the call‚ no up and down.”

She said the initial moments “set the tone of the whole call” and she felt convinced it was a prank.

“Normally callers who phone in with this type of emergency set the tone. There was no interruption‚ no comeback‚ no getting agitated‚ and he didn’t stop me at any time. He never brought up again in any of the conversations that his whole family had been attacked‚” she said.

“You were also very calm on the call‚” said Botha‚ “Are you trained that way?” She said yes.

Botha then said: “You have never met my client before. The only time you spoke to him was during that phone call.”

He said Van Breda stuttered as a child and had been coached to speak slowly and calmly as a technique to overcome this.

Botha also blamed social media for creating the opinion that what he called a stutter on the tape was a “giggle” and said Philander had been influenced. Was it a sob or a giggle? And why was he so calm when his family had been axed?

Philander confirmed that the first giggle had always troubled her‚ but the second giggle had been brought to her attention by social media.

On hearing the clip again in court‚ she said‚ “it sounds even more like a giggle to me now”.

When Botha asked why she told the police to move “quickly” if she didn’t believe it was a real situation‚ she said: “I wanted them to get there and catch him as I still believed he was a prank caller. I wanted them to move fast while he was still there [to arrest him].”

Desai said: “You get 70 to 100 calls a day. What percentage of those are prank calls?”

Looking at stats‚ Philander said: “In a six-month period up to February this year 35‚374 crank calls out of 238‚00 – about 15 percent. Those are the ones who stay calm.”

TMG Digital/TimesLIVE

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