‘They brought me a blowtorch… I was lucky because I ran out of gas’: Antrim man survives South African farm attack when his wife was killed and he was shot and left for dead

Five years have passed, but Robert Lynn remembers every word of the conversation he had with a doctor in a South African hospital that changed everything.

Sitting at the kitchen table in his County Antrim home, he describes a time and place thousands of miles away that he can never forget.

His thoughts return to Sunday night at the hospital in Middelburg, where he is recovering from brutal injuries sustained during a brutal raid on a farm.

During those three minutes, he is told that he survived being shot and left for dead. The medic says that somewhere in the hospital lies a mortally wounded Susan, his wife with 40 years of experience. He is told to decide when to “turn on the switch” on the machine that keeps her alive.

“I couldn’t understand what was going on,” he said, still incredulous.

The passage of time and his return to Northern Ireland did not help him avoid the terrible events that unfolded in the early morning of February 19, 2017.

The physical scars are still there – marks on his legs from where the gang used the gas blowtorch. The bullet is still stuck in his neck.

So are mental anguish. “I will never be at peace again,” he said at his sentencing hearing last month.

The couple met in South Africa in 1977.

Susan, from Southsea, Hampshire, came to Johannesburg after her father, who was in the Royal Navy, moved the family for work.

Mr Lynn’s early years were spent in Ben Madigan South Park, near Belfast Zoo.

A trainee engineer at what was then North Ireland Electricity Services at the Ballylumford power station, he emigrated at 28 after seeing an advertisement for the Johannesburg City Council’s electricity department in The Sunday Telegraph.

The five-year contract provided security at a time when delays in building a new power plant at Kilruth made his prospects here much less certain.

It was to be a five-year stay. The end result was 40 years. He worked from 1977 to 2001 and retired at 52.

In 2001, the couple moved to Dullstroom, a small farming town in the province of Mpumalanga, three hours east of Johannesburg, where Susan ran a riding school.

After closing, they left two horses and bought a farm 4 km from Dullstrom with their friends Allan and Claire Taylor in 2006.

Farming is one of the most dangerous occupations in a country with an astonishingly high crime rate. In the first two months of 2017, there were 59 attacks on farms and 19 murders.

“I’m afraid we were in denial that we were the ones who said, ‘This will never happen to us.’ And that was obviously a big mistake,” Lynn said.

He added: “The Africans called Susan the ‘English lady with the horses.’ Everyone knew that there was nothing to steal. There was no money on the farm, nothing of value, unless they needed a TV or something like that.”

That February morning, their false sense of security was terribly undermined.

It was 2:10 am. The men entered the bedroom window, broken glass breaking the night. One of the men fired two shots. Mr. Lynn at first thought they were targeting him.

“I could see the gun. I saw a flash, and then I heard an explosion. And I could see every bullet in the chamber because it was a revolver,” he explained.

“And apparently the first bullet – the two bullets fired – hit Susan.”

One hit her above the eye, he said. “That’s when she fell into a coma, she immediately dropped out of the game.

“It was pandemonium, we are talking about seconds, we are not talking about minutes.

“The one with the machine gun hit me on the back of the head, pulled me out of bed, took me to the living room, and then it all started: “Where is the money? Where are the guns? Where are your safes? Do you have a wall safe? All this nonsense.”

Mr. Lynn, tightly bound behind his back, was pushed into a chair.

“That’s when they started torturing,” he added.

Pointing to the faint white scars on his legs, he recalls how they took a blowtorch to burn his body.

“I was lucky because I ran out of gas. They started with my belly, they ended with my legs… they moved up. But then he just died. There was no gasoline left in the tank. If they had searched the garage, they would have found 20 more.”

Mr Lynn gave the gang all the money that was on the table, about 200 or 400 rand (£10 or £20). He handed over his bank card and PIN.

“But that wasn’t enough, so they started again, and then I thought: “My last chance is this safe, and I don’t know what’s in it – and, above all, I don’t know what the hell is this code.” ‘.

“It was a small wall safe, but it was not in the wall, but in the closet.

“So I took them back to the bedroom, and that’s when I saw Susan, and she was lying on her side in a fetal position, and the pillow was covered in blood.”

He tried to guess the safe’s code. When he tried his own date of birth, it didn’t work.

“One said, ‘Stop fucking me.’ I figured it was the one who was the boss. Then he came back with a steak knife and started stabbing me in the chest…just pushing.

“So I started bleeding and I remember saying, ‘Oh my God, Susan, this is incredible,’ thinking Susan was going to get pissed off because there was blood on the carpet.”

In desperation, he tried his wife’s date of birth. The safe opened. The gang grabbed whatever was inside.

But the torment of the couple, which lasted about two and a half hours, did not end there.

The gang was well enough informed to know that a maid was working on the farm, but not well enough to know that Sunday was her day off.

They dragged Mr. Lynn into a bucky (pickup truck).

“I sat there for I don’t know how long in the dark and heard a sack of potatoes thrown at my back, and then I heard a groan and realized it was Susan,” he said. .

They were taken along back roads and onto the road towards Stoffberg, about 60 minutes west of Dullstroom, stopping at a makeshift parking lot.

Mr Lynn remembers being dragged out of his car and “marched like frogs” across a field and over a barbed wire fence.

His feet were bare and covered in blood. He was in pain.

“You could see what was happening because the full moon came out. There were no clouds … stars, ”he recalled.

“Number three, boss, he told me to get on my knees and I told him to back off. Then I don’t know what happened.”

The next thing he remembers are the voices as the gang ran away and the way he lay on his side.

“They shot at me, but I didn’t know. I didn’t hear anything, obviously it was from behind.

“And I felt this hot substance running down my back, around my neck and around my throat.

“And I couldn’t reach my hands, my hands were tied, so I didn’t know what it was, but it was very hot.”

In the distance, he heard the car pull away and stop again.

“I heard two shots, and because it looked like a valley, the echo went everywhere,” he added.

He later learned that the sound was again the beating of his wife.

Despite being shot in the neck, Mr. Lynn freed his hands and crawled away in search of help. Hearing sounds from a nearby wooded area, he crawled over and found his wife in a ditch with a plastic bag in her mouth.

He dragged himself to the road, where he stopped a jeep with two men on their way to the nearest dam to fish.

Authorities were alerted and the couple were taken to “MidMed”, the central hospital in Middelburg.

“I don’t remember anything after that until Sunday evening, it was around 9:20 p.m., and I came to my senses,” he said.

What happened next still shocks him.

“A woman surgeon came in and it was probably the worst three minutes of my life.

“She just immediately came out and said: “Mr. Lynn, I’m not going to take out the bullet, it’s too close to the vertebrae, but you have every right to listen to a different opinion.” I thought, “What are you talking about?”

“I said, ‘What about Susan, how’s she doing?’ She used the following words: “Well, as a spouse, you have every right to flip the switch.”

“So she told me I was shot and now she’s telling me she’s on life support and that she said all her major organs are showing signs of distress and ‘you have every right to flip the switch’.”

The photograph was of his heavily bandaged wife in a hospital bed. Local police told reporters that she was unrecognizable due to her injuries.

“I was taken to her, but she was almost invisible, she was covered in tubes and everything,” Lynn said.

“Tuesday morning at 9:20 or so, her heart stopped. And that was it.”

The gang of three were apprehended after mobile phones stolen in the raid were traced. The couple’s bank cards were found in their possession.

Due to legal delays, it took five years for the case to go to court. One of the three defendants died in custody.

Last month, Meshak Nkosinati Yika (28) and Temba William Yika (38) were each sentenced to 37 years in prison.

But Mr. Lynn has no sense of completion.

“Someday they will get out of prison, but I am still in prison,” he said. “I was put in jail. I have no chances”.