Shoddy probe led to Tejpal’s acquittal on ‘benefit of doubt’: Court (ld)

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Panaji, May 26 (IANS) Shoddy police investigation right from the word go and the failure of the prosecution to prove their case beyond reasonable doubt led to the acquittal of former Tehelka editor-in-chief Tarun Tejpal Additional District and Sessions judge North Goa Kshama Joshi said in her 500 page plus judgement.

The order, which was pronounced on May 21 has granted Tejpal “benefit of doubt” and acquitted him of all charges levelled against under sections 376 (rape), 341 (wrongful restraint), 342 (wrongful confinement) 354A (sexual harassment) and 354B (criminal assault), of the Indian Penal Code.

A full copy of the judgement which was made available in the public domain on Wednesday has indicted the Crime Branch of the Goa Police for conducting a shoddy probe into the seven and a half year old case in which Tejpal was accused by a junior colleague of alleged rape in the elevator of Grand Hyatt, a five star resort in North Goa in November 2013.

A perusal of the lengthy judgement reveals that the Crime Branch may have erred in the first step of the investigation itself, by letting the complainant, in this case then police inspector Sunita Sawant — who filed the complaint on behalf of the state — investigate the high-profile case.

“PW 70 has admitted that she did not move any proposal before her superiors that she being the complainant the investigation should be handed over to some other officer, and claimed that her superiors directed her to investigate the offence. However, she admitted that her diaries do not reveal that she had any discussion with her superiors about the investigation being handed over to some other police officer, she being the complainant in the case,”the judgement states.

“PW70 has stated that PI Sudiksha Naik was the only lady police inspector besides her who was attached to the Crime Branch at the time of the registration of the present offence.

The above evidence of PW70 therefore clearly shows despite the availability of another lady police inspector of the Crime Branch, the investigating officer and her superiors malafidely retained the investigation with PW70 who was the complainant,” it further says.

Joshi’s judgement also makes an indictment of the overall investigation by the police into key elements of the case.

“The investigation officer (IO) has committed omissions and commissions while conducting the investigation in the present case, wherein the IO has done no investigation on crucial and vital aspects of the present case,” the judgement states.

The judgement has also detailed a list of omissions during the police investigation, which includes not providing footage of the first floor of the hotel to the Court.

“The investigating officer in the present case, although has collected the CCTV footage of the ground, first and second floor, but the footage of the first floor cannot be found for the perusal of the court which is a material lapse by the investigating officer,” the order said.

The police investigation was also hauled up for allowing glaring inconsistencies in the statement of the victim, which contradict the CCTV footage, which the judge has described as the “most neutral evidence” in the case.

“The IO did not compare the statements made by the prosecutrix in her statement dated November 26, 2013 with the CCTV footage, which constitutes the most neutral evidence in the case. The IO did not find it necessary or relevant or important to refer to the CCTV footage while recording the statement of the prosecutrix despite already having viewed the CCTV footage and being aware that there were glaring contradictions between the footage and the account of the prosecutrix,” the judgement says.

The order also says that the contradictions in the CCTV footage on November 7 and 8 — the victim had claimed that Tejpal sexually assaulted her in the elevator of the resort twice on the two stated days, “are often so glaring that the exact opposite of what the prosecutrix is claiming actually happens on screen yet, the IO did not even question the prosecutrix on the same”.

The order has also pointed to changes in the file size of two soft copies of the testimony of the victim and remarks that the “IO did not find out why there was a difference in the file size between the (two testimonies) which signals changes, edits, or improvements between the two versions”.

Pointing out to other procedural lapses, the judgement also says that the investigating officer did not play the audio of the recorded conversations between the prosecutrix and Shoma Chaudhury, then a director and top editorial official at Tehelka, recorded via the victim’s phone .

“The phone was not checked by IO to verify whether said recordings are available on the phone or not. The IO did not verify whether the phone contains the app ‘automatic call recorder’. The IO did not seal the DVD which contained the voice recordings of PW45 Shoma Chaudhury which was handed over to the IO by the prosecutrix, the judgement also states.