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Witness to Salman’s aid

Mumbai, June 29: Witnesses in the Salman Khan hit-and-run case are flipping in a way similar to the Jessica Lal murder and the Best Bakery trial, involving Zahira.

In a complete turnaround, the prime witness, Abdul Rauf Shaikh, said in court today he had not seen the actor emerging from the car that rammed into a bakery in Mumbai’s upscale suburb of Bandra, killing one and injuring four. Shaikh, an employee of the bakery, was one of the injured on that night of September 28, 2002.

He left the job after the accident and was not traceable till Mumbai police recently found him after a long search. He is now employed in another bakery in Bandra where Salman also lives.

Allegedly lovelorn and drunk (it was the time of his rumoured split with Aishwarya Rai), Salman ran over the five people who were sleeping on the footpath on his way home. Later, the key witnesses disappeared to emerge after extensive police search, claiming to have been threatened and tempted with money by the actor’s family.

Now comes the retraction, to add another twist ' almost filmy had it not been laced with the tragedy of a death.

“It is a setback. But, of late, the courts on various occasions have taken a tough stance against hostile witnesses and we hope that in this particular case as well, the court will take cognisance of the other available evidence and Shaikh’s earlier vanishing act,” said a senior officer of Mumbai police associated with the case.

Salman’s lawyer and his secretary were unavailable for comment.

Recently, another key witness in the case, Salman’s former bodyguard Ravindra Patil, resurfaced from hiding, alleging that the actor’s relatives had threatened him against deposing before the court on three earlier occasions.

Patil was with Salman when the actor slammed his car into the bakery. Patil had been taken into judicial custody till June 17 in view of a non-bailable warrant issued against him and for failing to appear in court on earlier occasions.

There were four prime witnesses who had given evidence at the time the FIR was made ' Shaikh and Patil among them. The others are missing.

Courts have been taking a serious view of witnesses changing their testimony. Zahira, the key witness in the Best Bakery massacre during the Gujarat riots, has been charged with perjury. In Delhi, the Jessica Lal murder investigation has been reopened after witnesses turned hostile.

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