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Jessica can of worms prised open

New Delhi, March 6: A groundswell of public outrage has compelled police to announce a probe into charges of evidence tampering in the Jessica Lal murder case and declare that the blanket acquittals would be challenged in court.

Delhi police have registered a case of destruction of evidence, which, along with somersaults by celebrity witnesses, is being seen as the prime factor that led to the acquittal of Manu Sharma, a Haryana minister’s son accused of gunning down the model for refusing him a drink at 2 am in 1999.

A fresh first information report has been filed against “unnamed persons” but it will cover all police personnel involved with the original probe.

Lawyers said the sections under which the new case has been filed will allow the police to examine whether those in charge of and present at Tamarind Court, the trendy restaurant-cum-bar where Jessica was shot dead, had tried to remove evidence.

Allegations had been levelled that Tamarind Court, owned by socialite Bina Ramani, had wiped the bloodstains from the floor. Several fixtures of Delhi’s cocktail circuit were also said to have been present at the time of the murder but few testified so.

Supreme Court lawyer Ashok Arora said the probe would help fix responsibility if it is proved that evidence had been tampered with. “It will put extra pressure on people who were there and those who destroyed evidence to speak the truth,” he added.

Another lawyer, K.T.S. Tulsi, said the new case could eventually lead to a reinvestigation of the murder, “if it is established that there has been a conspiracy between the accused and the police”.

Besides Manu, the eight other accused were also let off on February 21 by a court.

The acquittals had unleashed a wave of anger across the country, the outrage finding expression through modern-day weapons like SMS and e-mail. A television channel collected as many as 2 lakh messages, which were submitted to President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, who said: “I will study the petition and take necessary action. This is my promise.”

Delhi police commissioner K.K. Paul, who announced the inquiry today, had suggested the registration of a similar case following an inquiry he conducted in 2002. He had concluded then that some officials and the accused had conspired to derail the case.

The inquiry was triggered by a ballistic report from the Central Forensic Science Laboratory that said the two empty cartridges found at the scene of the crime were shot from two guns ' a claim that was not supported by witnesses. This ' and pointed questions by the police that highlighted the discrepancy ' had fuelled speculation that cartridges were switched.

Paul added that the police would also file an appeal in Delhi High Court against the acquittals in a day or two.

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