An alleged thief in South Africa had half his penis bitten off by police dogs after they were let loose on three men accused of stealing maize.

South Africa's Independent Online reports that all three of the suspected thieves sustained injuries from the dogs. However a friend of the men claims they were not taken to hospital for three days afterwards.

It is also reported that the men were held in cells at Kimberley Police Station, in the Northern Cape, for more than 48 hours without charge following their arrest.

A family member said: "This is police brutality. How can they let the dogs bite off his penis and also hold all of them in the police cells for more than 48 hours without charging them? Clearly the police are becoming a law unto themselves and this is unacceptable.

"They all have bite marks from the police dogs. We want answers here. The police must explain what happened to our family members."

Held legally

The family member continued: "The police apparently found bags of maize and one tyre in the vehicle and instead of arresting the men, the police first unleashed the dogs on them.

"They have been in the cells for three days already but they have not yet been charged or appeared in court. Instead of releasing them, the police are sending them to Plooysburg Police Station because they suspect that the maize and tyre were allegedly stolen from there."

However Priscilla Naidu, a spokeswoman for the Northern Cape police, denied the men had been forced to wait for medical treatment and police had not held them illegally without charge.

"The injured suspects received the necessary medical attention immediately after their arrests," she said. "The suspects were transported to Plooysburg where they were charged and were taken to the Douglas Magistrate's Court."

Naidu added that the dogs had not been set on the three men deliberately.