Pretoria: An ex-police officer told Oscar Pistorius's murder trial on Friday that his colleagues were clumsy with evidence and even stole a luxury watch from the crime scene.
Former station chief Giliam van Rensburg, who was among the first officers on the scene of the Valentine's Day 2013 killing and the one who arrested Pistorius, retired from the police last year.
He testified that a fellow officer handled the Paralympian spring star's gun without gloves and that a watch worth as much as USD 10,000 (7,000 euros) went missing, calling into question the police's broader handling of the investigation.
The police officers' conduct could have a strong bearing on the outcome of the trial, if Judge Thokozile Masipa believes vital forensic evidence was tainted or even tampered with -- as the defence alleges.
Van Rensburg walked the court through photos taken shortly after Reeva Steenkamp was shot in the early hours of February 14, 2013.
They included nightmare images of the 29-year-old model's fatal head wound and photos of a shirtless Pistorius covered in blood shortly after the shooting.
In one image the athlete is seen standing in his garage, expressionless and staring straight at the camera, wearing blue blood-soaked shorts and with dried blood on his left arm.
Other pictures showed the blood-drenched toilet stall where Steenkamp was shot, as well as bullet marks on the wall.
- 'I was furious' -
Van Rensburg testified that experts examined a blood-splattered box containing eight timepieces and that one went missing even after he warned his officers against theft.
"I saw those watches and I said this is tempting for any person because this is expensive watches," he told the court.
Van Rensburg described his reaction when he was later told a watch was gone.
"I said, 'I can't believe it. We were just there. How can this watch be gone?'"
Body and vehicle searches failed to turn up the missing watch and a theft docket was opened, he said, adding: "I was furious."
Van Rensburg said he later found another policeman mishandling the 9mm pistol that was used to kill Steenkamp and was left on the blood-soaked bathroom mat.
"At that particular moment the ballistics expert was handling the firearm without gloves," Van Rensburg told the court, adding that the policeman had already removed the magazine.
Under cross-examination Van Rensburg further conceded several contradictions between his statements and those of other officers at the scene, saying some of his colleagues had submitted hearsay evidence.
At one point he expressed shock at evidence given by colleague Hilton Botha, shouting out "amazing" and disputing Botha's version.
Criminal lawyer Dave Smith said that if police had moved key evidence, as photos suggested, that could affect the trial's outcome.
But police misconduct on the scene would not automatically undermine the state's case, he told AFP.
"Those four holes in the door are still there," said Smith, who is not involved in the case but is an old friend of defence lawyer Barry Roux.
"No matter if they contaminated the scene -- it's not going to negate the totality of their evidence."
Roux already blasted police misconduct during the athlete's bail hearing last year, and it is expected to be a key element of the defence as the trial continues.
During the bail hearing, Botha admitted that he had walked through the scene without protective footwear and missed a bullet that had lodged in the toilet bowl.
The defence targeted last year's mishaps once more on Friday, accusing Van Rensburg of tailoring his testimony so that the prosecution would not call Botha again.
Pistorius, 27, denies murdering Steenkamp, saying he shot the model through the locked bathroom door after he mistook her for an intruder.