During her two-year-long incarceration at Mumbai’s Byculla Jail, British national Julie Warner, an accused in a 2017 human trafficking case who allegedly committed suicide in Goa last week, was also a witness to the alleged fatal assault on fellow inmate Manjula Shetye allegedly by jailors in June 2017. She was also the only one among the scared inmates who tried to intervene and also pleaded with the jailors to stop the assault.
Warner (40) was remanded in judicial custody on March 21, 2017, after being arrested at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport earlier that month with three other compatriots while allegedly aiding four Sri Lankan nationals to travel illegally to the UK using their identities.
Shetye (40) was a murder convict serving out the last year of her life term at Byculla Jail. Due to her good conduct in jail she was appointed as a warder.
However, the accused — sub inspector Manisha Pokharkar and constables Waseema Shaikh, Sheetal Shegaokar, Surekha Gudve, Aarti Shingane and Bindu Naikode — have claimed that several inmates had complained to them that Shetye had provided them poor quality eggs during meals, limited the duration of their family visits and extracted personal favours from them.
The jailors allegedly brutally assaulted Shetye in Barrack Number 5 on the morning of June 23, 2017. However, Shetye was only taken to J J Hospital later that evening when her health worsened. She succumbed to her injuries soon after she was admitted to the hospital.
After news of her death was given to jail inmates the next day, they allegedly went on rampage, setting a fire, destroying jail equipment and assaulting staff. Some inmates are also alleged to have rushed to the roof where they set fire to clothes and shouted slogans against jail authorities. A complaint of rioting was later filed against 291 inmates, including Warner.
During the course of its investigation into Shetye’s murder, the Mumbai Police Crime Branch also recorded Warner’s statement in English before the magistrate as it was unsure of her presence in India once she received bail or if she left the country.
In her statement, Warner praised Shetye, who used to teach yoga to the inmates, as being kind and “always polite with all the jail inmates”. On the other hand, she described Sub-Inspector Pokharkar as being “wicked” and “rude”. “Jailor Manisha Pokharkar is a wicked woman. She used to keep all the letters sent to me with her and never parted with them,” Warner had said in her statement. Warner also complained about Pokharkar to the British Embassy.
Warner claimed in her statement that she was aware of the frequent beatings and threats that the accused would administer to Shetye and other inmates.
After one particular beating in May 2017, Warner noted that Shetye was upset, stopped teaching yoga and that her behaviour had changed completely. She also noted spotting that Shetye’s right eye was swollen but did not ask her about it.
On June 23, 2017, Warner said in her statement that she first saw Shetye being taken by Pokhakar into her office and immediately heard sounds of her screaming. At noon the same day, Warner entered Barrack Number 5, when the accused jailors were allegedly assaulting Shetye with a wooden stick and kicking her as she lay on the ground.
Even as all the other inmates kept silent fearing reprisals, Warner asked the jailors to stop hitting Shetye and tried to stop the assault. Even as another inmate told Warner not to interfere, the accused stopped hitting Shetye and allegedly warned the assembled inmates that anyone who helped Shetye or gave her food, water of medicines would suffer the same fate.
All five accused are currently out on bail and at the Bombay City Civil and Sessions Court, both the prosecution and defence have completed examining two witnesses, while the cross-examination of the third witness is underway.
Public prosecutor Vidya Kasle said that there was no plan to call Warner to court to depose as a prosecution witness. “Her statement in relation to the incident is barely 2-3 lines. We already have enough eyewitnesses to examine,” she said.
Warner is alleged to have committed suicide by hanging herself from a banyan tree in the beach town of Calungate in Goa on September 28. The Goa Police, her daughter and fellow accused said that after being released from jail in March this year, she was desperate to return to the UK but was unable to do so as the Bombay High Court had stayed the trial in the human trafficking case.