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Salman wins appeal, walks free

Actor Salman Khan, along with sister Alvira, comes out of the Bombay High Courtafter he was acquitted on Thursday.— Photo: Vivek Bendre  

Citing failure of the prosecution to conclusively prove drunken driving charges against actor Salman Khan, the Bombay High Court on Thursday acquitted him of all charges in the 2002 hit-and-run and drunk-and-drive case that killed one and injured four persons.

The accident took place on the night of September 28, 2002 outside the American Express Bakery in Bandra, where some people were sleeping on the pavement. The actor resides in Bandra and was returning home when the car rammed into the bakery.

Justice A.R. Joshi said: “The order by the Sessions Court [convicting Salman for 5 years of rigorous imprisonment] has been quashed and set aside. The bail bonds stand cancelled, all fine amounts paid by the appellant [Khan] shall be refunded to him.” Mr. Khan was convicted by the Bombay Sessions Court on May 6, 2015.

While disposing of the appeal against the actor’s conviction, the court said, “Prosecution has failed to establish the case against the appellant of driving and that too under the influence of alcohol,” and asked him to be present in court for the verdict.

On hearing the judgment, the actor wept and waited for over three hours to complete court procedure. He later tweeted, “I accept the decision of the judiciary with humility. I thank my family, friends & fans for their support & prayers.”

The court had earlier observed that there were anomalies in the sampling of Mr. Khan’s blood for alcohol checks.

“The statements of the eyewitnesses were inconsistent, too,” the court observed. One of the injured had claimed that he had seen the actor exiting from the right side of the car and the bodyguard (Mumbai police constable Ravindra Patil) from the left. Another claimed he saw Mr. Khan falling twice, getting up and leaving the scene. A third eyewitness claimed he had seen him emerge from the driver’s side of the car. However, he did not remember whether the car was a right-hand drive or a left-hand drive. The fourth person claimed he had seen the actor on the spot, but had not specified his location.

Chief Public Prosecutor Sandeep Shinde told The Hindu : “The fact remains that an innocent man was killed and four others were injured. Who is responsible for that? What kind of message are we sending out to society? Are we saying any high-profile person can hijack the system?”

Justice Joshi seems to have anticipated this reaction. In his order, he had said: “While we are aware of the public opinion, it is a settled opinion that courts need to decide on law.” The court also said it cannot be swayed by “the profession and status of the appellant and assume guilt.”

The court came down heavily on the prosecution. “It is settled principle that the court must decide the case on material that is admissible as evidence under the procedure of law,” Justice Joshi said in his order. “The evidence presented by prosecution has not been able to reach the level which in the view of this court is needed to establish the guilt of the appellant beyond reasonable doubt. Any strong suspicion can’t be enough to hold anyone guilty.”

As soon as news spread that the actor was coming to court, the police arrived to cordon off the area. The actor’s sister Alvira and manager Reshma were present in the already packed court room. More than 100 police officers were deployed to keep lawyers, court staff, and law students at bay when the actor arrived with his bodyguard Shera and brother-in-law Ayush Khurana (husband of his other sister Arpita).

The statements

of the eyewitnesses were also inconsistent,

says the court