HIMMATNAGAR: Citing lack of evidence, a special trial court here today acquitted all the six accused in a case related to the killing of three British nationals during the 2002 post-Godhra riots.
The deaths of the British nationals near Prantij town in Sabarkantha district had prompted the UK government to take a policy decision not to have active engagement with Gujarat government. UK resumed the engagement only in October 2012.
Representatives of the British High Commission to India were present in the court today.
"It seems there is no evidence on record from which it can be believed that the accused were members of the unlawful assembly and involved in commission of offence," said principal district and sessions judge I C Shah in the order.
The case had been probed by the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team. The accused were charged with murder and other relevant offences under the Indian Penal Code.
Three eyewitnesses produced by the prosecution (SIT) turned hostile, the court noted, adding that though the crime did take place, there was no one who could confirm the presence of the accused at the site.
It was the duty of the investigating officer to record statements of all the witnesses before the magistrate under section 164 of Criminal Procedure Code (such statements can not be retracted later), but this was not done, it added.
On February 28, 2002, as riots engulfed Gujarat a day after the Godhra train-burning incident, Imran Dawood and his UK-based uncles Saeed Dawood, Shakeel Dawood and Mohammad Aswat were attacked by a mob on the highway near Prantij.
Saeed, Shakeel, Mohammad Aswat and their car driver Yusuf Piraghar, a local, were burnt alive, while Imran managed to save himself with the help of police.
Those acquitted in the case today are Mithanbhai Patel, Chandu alias Prahlad Patel, Ramesh Patel, Manoj Patel, Rajesh Patel and Kalubhai Patel, all residents of Prantij.
The court also did not rely on Imran Dawood's testimony.
It noted that by his own admission he was not able to identify any of the accused due to the lapse of time, as he deposed eight years after the incident.
"Even police officers have clearly denied the presence of the accused. They have specifically stated they were not able to recognise any person in the mob," it said.
In the 182-page order, the court noted that the special public prosecutor made emotional arguments, but "sentiments or emotions, however strong, are neither relevant nor (do they have) any place in a court of law".
Prosecutor R C Kodekar had mainly relied on the testimony of Imran Dawood, the lone survivor. Prosecution examined 81 other witnesses and presented 79 pieces of material evidence.
Kodekar had argued that Imran's testimony corroborated the statements of five policemen, while the defence argued that neither the material evidence nor the eyewitnesses indicated that the accused were involved in the crime.
The case was first investigated by Gujarat Police. It was handed over to the SIT by the apex court in 2008.
The court noted that the six accused underwent lie-detector test and they were found to have lied while answering five of the 11 questions.
Imran Dawood deposed from UK through video conference in 2010. The SIT, last November, sought to re-examine him saying it was hard to understand some part of it because of his British accent. But the court rejected the application.
The accused remained tight-lipped after the verdict.
The SIT officials said they will read the judgement and then decide after consulting the Gujarat government's legal department whether an appeal should be filed.