|CCTV footage of
Scene of crime: The bus (DL 1PC 0149), where the December 16 gang rape was committed, is parked in front of Saket police station in south Delhi. (Picture by Prem Singh)
Telltale clues: The rapists had tried to wipe the evidence off but forensic experts found strands of hair, bloodstains on the floor and curtains, and other evidence
Trial run: During the trial, the
police drove the bus four times to the fast-track court for the judge step onto the compound and examine the vehicle
Return trip: After the owner
applies to the court to get the bus
back, it will be returned to him,
an officer said
New Delhi, Sept. 12: Constable Lakhwinder Singh, with a clean-cut look and aquiline nose, has earned the right to a deerstalker hat and a pipe for he has virtually done a Sherlock Holmes.
The five-foot-nine, well-built cop in his late 30s saved Delhi police’s face in the hours after the December 16 gang rape, his deductive powers and hawk eyes providing the breakthrough that led to the culprits’ arrest within a day of the crime.
Lakhwinder, who drives assistant commissioner Kulwant Singh’s official car, identified the bus inside which the victim was brutalised by scanning CCTV footage from roadside guesthouses and putting two and two together.
An initiative the police had taken about five years ago —asking buildings with CCTVs to have one of them facing the street to help catch terrorists — had paid dividends.
Lakhwinder’s grateful superiors are singing his praises and crediting him with saving their jobs, but the man himself remains unassuming.
“I merely did my duty. Now I feel good that the perpetrators have been held guilty by the court,” he told The Telegraph.
“He should be given the entire credit; his presence of mind helped us crack the case so fast,” a special commissioner said, requesting anonymity.
“He saved the jobs of several seniors — we were under tremendous pressure following the widespread protests.”
The officer said Lakhwinder’s contribution had so far not been officially acknowledged “as everybody was busy preparing the chargesheet and attending the day-to-day trial”. He said the constable was sure to be rewarded after things had settled down.
Based on statements by the victim’s male friend, 30 police teams had been formed in the early hours of December 17 to trace the bus and arrest the six accused.
“It was a challenge for all of us. We had no clues and, initially, it was proving to be a wild goose chase,” said Kulwant, the assistant commissioner and Lakhwinder’s boss.
“I went to Safdarjung Hospital with Lakhwinder and spoke to the victim’s male friend around 1.50am.”
They learnt that it was a white luxury bus with green-and-gold stripes along the middle and orange curtains behind dark-glass windows. The young man also provided details of the route and the time.
Kulwant set out in search of the bus, with Lakhwinder at the wheel of his car. They drove towards the Mahipalpur flyover near which the victim and her friend had been thrown off the moving bus. In between, they stopped and checked four white buses but none matched the description.
So they decided that scanning CCTV footage from the many guesthouses dotting the highway was the only option.
“After checking footage from several guesthouses for over five hours, Lakhwinder noticed a white bus, carrying the label ‘Yadav Travels’, heading towards Gurgaon at 9.34pm. He saw the same bus returning at 9.53pm,” the assistant commissioner said.
Lakhwinder alerted his boss, who was scanning CCTV tapes at another guesthouse. For a moment the subordinate turned Holmes and the boss, Dr Watson.
“I rushed back to him and asked how he could be so sure that this was the bus we wanted. Lakhwinder said confidently that the hubcap on the back tyre was missing on each side (he saw a different side each time) — so it was likely the same bus.”
The victim’s male friend had told them the bus had turned back a little distance from the Mahipalpur flyover, deciding it would be too risky to stop at the toll plaza.
“I immediately informed my seniors and showed a recording of the footage to the victim’s friend, who confirmed it was the same bus,” Kulwant said.
An alert sent to all police stations led to the identification of three travel agencies with “Yadav” in their name. After the two operating from Gurgaon threw up blanks, the owner of the third, in Noida, recognised the bus.
It had been chartered to a school. Its driver Ram Singh and his helpers and friends had taken it out for a spin on the night of the crime.
The police tracked down Ram, who later committed suicide in Tihar Jail. His interrogation led to the arrest of the other five. Forensic evidence supported the prosecution’s case.