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Free but fair?

Priyadarshini,22,a final year LLB student was followed home to her Vasant Kunj house on the afternoon of January 23,1996. The assailant,according to the prosecution,allegedly barged into her house and severely assaulted her,strangling her with an electric wire.

Written by Siddhartha Sarma | New Delhi | Updated: June 13, 2018 3:44:51 pm

On January 23 this year,Chaman Mattoo was in Delhi,on his way to Jammu. Exactly ten years after his daughter,law student Priyadarshini Mattoo,was murdered,and a little more than six years after a court set the accused free even after indicting him as ‘‘the man who committed the crime,’’ the father of the victim sees no progress in getting justice.

Priyadarshini,22,a final year LLB student was followed home to her Vasant Kunj house on the afternoon of January 23,1996. The assailant,according to the prosecution,allegedly barged into her house and severely assaulted her,strangling her with an electric wire. The post-mortem report would turn up 19 separate injury marks on her body,besides a battered face.

In the aftermath of the crime which shocked the neighbourhood — and,eventually,the country — the police zeroed in on the suspect. Santosh Kumar Singh,son of IPS officer JP Singh,who eventually retired as a Joint Commissioner of Delhi Police,had been allegedly stalking the girl ‘‘in person and over the phone’’,in January and February a year before the murder. Priyadarshini had filed a police complaint,following which she was assigned a security cover.

When the contours of the case changed from a sensational murder in broad daylight to that of a high-profile accused,the CBI was handed over the case,and Singh,who had passed the same law course in 1994,was later arrested. Investigators immediately got his antecedents out,including the police complaint the victim had filed,and records of his frequent run-ins with the girl. Evidence from the scene of the crime,witness testimony,DNA samples to substantiate the assault were analysed at the Forensic Science Laboratory.

The trial lasted till the end of 1999. On December 3,Additional Sessions Judge GP Thareja delivered his 453-page verdict: ‘‘I know that he (the accused) is the man who committed the crime. I acquit him,giving him the benefit of doubt.’’ That verdict,which severely indicted the CBI for many lapses,eventually led to President K R Narayanan’s remark that ‘‘the cathedrals of justice have become like casinos.’’

case file

Last call • Priyadarshini Mattoo,22 year old law student,assaulted and murdered on January 23,1996 • Investigators zero in on Santosh Kumar Singh,son of a top cop,who had been allegedly stalking the victim for more than a year • Case shifted to the CBI. Verdict finally comes out on December 3,1999 • Matter yet to be appealed in High Court,after CBI officials vowed to get back on the case

The judge ruled that the investigating agency had faulted on many counts,including ‘‘not folowing official investigative procedures.’’ The DNA tests conducted on the victim and the accused,ASJ Thareja said,had been fabricated,and evidence ioncluding fingerprint reports had been kept away. Among the more blatant lapses in the probe was that sleuths had claimed that the victim’s domestic help,a prosecution witness was missing. It took a journalist to trace the man to his Bihar village.

The CBI admitted that it had to pull up its socks and plug holes in future cases. Its appeal was admitted by a two-judge Delhi High Court Bench on April 26,2000,but on October 17 that year,the bench rejected the agency’s appeal for arresting Singh while the hearing on the appeal was in progress.

‘‘The CBI assured me that this time they would get fool-proof evidence,’’ the father of the victim was to say eventually. ‘‘But there has been little work to be seen.’’ CBI officials say they are still working on it.

Meanwhile,the alleged killer went on to marry and settle in Delhi and is now a practising lawyer.

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