Ben Maclennan | Cape Town, South Africa
01 December 2005 07:47
Controversial Christian evangelist Peter Hammond confirmed on Wednesday that he has been charged with assault following what he said was a Halloween "accident" with a paintball gun.
Hammond, director of the Cape Town-based Frontline Fellowship, an organisation dedicated to "missionary outreach", said he will appear in the Goodwood Magistrate's Court on December 20.
He said on Wednesday night, however, that he himself had not touched the gun on the day in question, and that it was accidentally discharged by his 10-year-old son.
"It was not intentional and not malicious," said Hammond, who is a vociferous opponent of South Africa's gun-control laws.
He said his family -- he has a wife and four children -- do not approve of Halloween, which they see as an "occult holiday celebrating human sacrifice, witches and goblins".
His children had wanted to do a "counter-Halloween", and he had agreed to drive two of them around to "do paintballing" on trick-or-treating youngsters on October 31.
"It was meant to be a joke: nobody was meant to get hurt," he said. "I laid down a few ground rules: we were just going for teenagers, no kids."
He said his 10-year-old son initially paintballed some youngsters who appeared to have just strewn rubbish across the road as a Halloween prank, shooting low and from a distance, and then called out to another child, asking whether he was a trick-or-treater.
The boy came over to the car, saw the paintball gun, swore at Hammond's son and tried to pull it out of his hands.
The gun went off, and Hammond drove away.
His 12-year-old daughter, in the rear of the car, looked back and saw that the boy was rubbing his jaw.
"With hindsight, it would have been better to go back, but he didn't look in great pain that I could see," Hammond said.
He said that some days later he was "mortified" to learn from an article in a community newspaper that police were searching for the paintball shooter. He tried first to phone the parents of the boy shot on the jaw, and then phoned the police investigating officer.
"Somehow or other, this accident is being interpreted as a malicious adult going around shooting people.
"Categorically, I can say I never handled a paintball or shot anyone that night. It was a case of a small boy [his son] panicking. I take full responsibility for a bad judgement call. I've apologised to everyone I can. We want to meet with the parents and apologise, but so far they've not been willing to meet with us," he said.
"We feel terrible that anyone got hurt, but it really was an accident."
Many fundamentalist Christians believe that Halloween, with its pagan origins, is a celebration of the "powers of darkness".
Some describe it as "an evil day of Satan", and say that participation sends a message to children that witchcraft, demonism, satanism and the occult are something fun, entertaining and harmless.
They also believe that even normally well-behaved children are driven by "unseen forces" to destructive behaviour and vandalism on Halloween.
Hammond is described on the fellowship website as a missionary who has pioneered evangelistic outreaches in war zones of Mozambique, Angola and Sudan.
He has, however, also been accused of gun-running for rebels in Sudan, and of assisting the Renamo movement when it was fighting a South African-backed civil war against Mozambique's Frelimo government in the apartheid years.
Hammond is known for his opposition to homosexuality, pornography, communism and militant Islam, as well as to what he says is "humanism" in the state schooling system.