Oscar Pistorius trial accidentally sees images of Reeva Steenkamp’s body

Athlete vomits after photos flash up briefly on screens as police official flicks through crime scene images during murder trial

Gruesome images of the model Reeva Steenkamp shortly after her death were inadvertently shown to a packed courtroom on Thursday, causing Oscar Pistorius to vomit and horrifying her supporters in the public gallery.

The photographs flashed up briefly on several TV screens as a police official flicked through images on a computer showing scenes from inside Pistorius's house to illustrate prosecution testimony at his murder trial.

The athlete denies murdering 29-year-old Steenkamp at his home in Pretoria, South Africa, in February last year. He claims he shot four times through a locked toilet cubicle door after mistaking her for a burglar.

The court in Pretoria was hearing evidence from forensic analyst Gerhard Vermeulen when the multiple monitors were used to display pictures of door fragments in the bloodstained bathroom.

Suddenly there was a momentary glimpse of Steenkamp's body lying on the floor, prompting gasps and exclamations from the public.

The next photograph showed Pistorius's prosthetic right limb and sock stained with Steenkamp's blood – cited by the defence as evidence to support his claim that he was wearing the prostheses when he smashed down the toilet door with a cricket bat after shooting through it.

Soon after there was an even bigger shock when, scrolling through thumbnail images, the screens showed Steenkamp's face.

Sitting in the dock, Pistorius threw up, as he did during evidence earlier this week, before he buried his head in his hands and sobbed uncontrollably.

Steenkamp's friend Desi Myers, who had distributed photographs of the model captioned "Reeva 1983-2003" for fellow supporters to wear, also wept and had to leave the room. Pistorius forced himself to rise when the judge exited at an adjournment and wiped his mouth, but then sank back down and continued crying, his cheeks and neck reddening.

When the court resumed, with prosecutor Gerrie Nel warning of more graphic images to come, the TV screen closest to Pistorius had been switched off.

What followed were photos of a trail of blood leading from the ground floor of the athlete's home upstairs to the bathroom where he shot Steenkamp.

The pictures offered a rare insight into the sporting celebrity's home life in what could be described as a luxury bachelor pad with a stark design of white walls, brown stone tiled floors and steel staircase balustrades. There was a TV room with a big sofa and a shelf full of Pistorius's trophies, and a main bedroom containing a box of wrist watches, a showcase full of designer sunglasses and syringe needles and boxes of medication. Near the bedroom door was a black airgun rifle and a blue baseball bat.

The images were described by Schoombie van Rensburg, a former police colonel who was first on the scene after the shooting on Valentine's Day last year. "At the bottom of the stairs lay a body, wrapped in towels of different colours and also black bags over her head," said Van Rensburg. Steenkamp had been declared dead by medics by the time he arrived.

He found a "very emotional" Pistorius in the kitchen pacing up and down. "I asked him what happened but he didn't answer me," Van Rensburg told the court. "He was in tears."

Police investigator Hilton Botha also arrived at the home, where bloodstains were visible in many areas, according to Van Rensburg. "We then followed the trail of blood up the stairs," he said as the prosecutor Gerrie Nel led him through the sequence of events that night.

The court was guided through the house, closer and closer to the room where Steenkamp died, through a series of stark photographs. They showed blood on the stair walls and bathroom floor, on which lay a crumpled, blood-soaked towel and the cricket bat. Two iPhones, empty bullet cartridges and, lying on a mat, Pistorius's 9mm pistol could also be seen.

Asked by Nel what condition the firearm was in, Van Rensburg said it was cocked, with the safety catch removed. "It's ready to fire," said the colonel. "You just have to pull the trigger."

Pistorius, 27, faces a life sentence in prison if convicted. He has pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and three firearms-related offences.

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