The Bombay High Court has acquitted Bollywood actor Salman Khan of all charges in the 2002 hit-and-run case in which one person was killed and 4 others were injured when the actor’s car rammed into a bakery in Bandra in Mumbai. Seven months ago, Salman was convicted and sentenced to 5 years in jail by a Sessions court in the case.
“The appeal is allowed. The trial court’s verdict is quashed and set aside…Salman is acquitted of all charges,” announced Justice AR Joshi in packed courtroom.
Justice Joshi observed that the prosecution had a “weak” case and had failed to establish its case against Salman on all charges. The entire evidence of the prosecution was only circumstantial in nature, the judge added.
He also stated that the burden to establish the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt was on the prosecution, which it failed to do.
He then listed out the shortcomings in the prosecution’s case. He said the evidence of important witnesses was not recorded and moreover, there were a number of omissions and contradictions in the evidence of injured witnesses.
On the key eyewitness Ravindra Patil who was Salman’s former bodyguard, the judge expressed doubts as he had changed his statement multiple times. Justice Joshi dismissed Patil as a “wholly unreliable” witness and said that the appellant cannot be convicted on the basis of evidence given by him. Patil had constantly changed his statement on whether the actor was driving under the influence of alcohol.
The judge went on to slam the shoddy police investigation, which had several loose ends, and thus, the judge said, the verdict had to be given in favour of the accused.
He also pointed out that the prosecution should have examined singer Kamaal Khan, who was with his friend Salman in the Toyota Land Cruiser when the accident occurred.
The court dismissed all restaurant bills provided by the prosecution that said that the actor had consumed alcohol, and called them fabricated.
All these factors, the court said, create a doubt about Salman’s involvement for offences he has been charged with, stressing on the lack of material evidence in the case that spells out the offence of the accused.
The court also observed that the appreciation of evidence done by the trial court was not proper and legal as per the principles of criminal jurisprudence.
The judge also cited Salman’s driver Ashok Singh’s deposition in the trial court where he said that he was driving the car.
“Strong suspicion can’t be enough to hold anyone guilty,” Justice Joshi said, acquitting Salman.
“While we are aware of public opinion, it is a settled opinion that courts need to decide on law (points)…courts cannot be swayed by profession and status of the appellant,” the Judge noted.
On hearing the verdict, Salman Khan, who was present in court, broke into tears. The actor was shooting in a studio on the outskirts of Mumbai, had to rush to the court because the court had said that he had to be present during the time of the final verdict.
Salman arrived at the High Court at around 1.30 pm and was accompanied by his sister, brother-in-law, his bodyguard and his manager. Massive security arrangements were in place to check the crowd who had gathered outside and inside the court to catch a glimpse of the star.
Meanwhile, the Maharashtra government said that it will decide on what to do next only after reading the order.
“We will examine the (High) court order and decide further course of action,” said Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.
13 years ago, on September 28, 2002, Salman’s car had rammed into a bakery in suburban Bandra and the accident killed a pavement dweller and injured four others.
(With inputs from PTI)