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Highway assault: six accused, 66 lookalikes

A mental challenge followed blows to the body for the victims of the Sepetmebr 5 highway attack: identify the six accused from 66 “lookalikes”.

Rogue bikers allegedly high on booze beat up four deejays on a deserted and dimly-lit stretch of a highway in Howrah that night while they were returning to Calcutta from a programme. The youths had dialled the police helpline, but no help came their way as Howrah police failed to act.

The quartet and their driver were shown 66 people during the test identification (TI) parade in an Uluberia jail on Monday.

A set of men of similar height and build was made to stand in a single file along three walls of a big hall with the six accused among them. After each round, a new set replaced them until all the 66 “lookalikes”, including the six accused, were paraded.

After going through the exercise, the victims told Metro that the assailants were clean-shaven on that night and it was quite straining to recall their faces since the highway was poorly lit. If that was not enough of a memory teaser, all the men on Monday sported a stubble.

“All of them looked alike, clad in lungi and vests. Our attackers were wearing jeans that night and were clean-shaven. They looked so different at the parade,” one of the deejays said.

Howrah police officers on Tuesday said the victims could accurately identify only two of the accused, apparently a matter of concern for the police as they could have used the TI parade report as evidence.

“We have received the report from the jail. Two of the six accused persons have been identified,” said Sukhendu Hira, the additional SP of Howrah (Rural). He refused to name the two.

“The men failed to identify any of the six accused persons. One of the two women victims identified an attacker correctly while the second woman recognised two, including the man that the first woman did,” said an officer privy to the parade report.

They were called inside the parade hall one by one and asked to carefully look at all the 66 people in the room and identify the six accused in front of the magistrate seated there.

“I was feeling uneasy. When I raised my finger and pointed towards a man I thought was one of the attackers, he glared at me as if he was going to hurt me then and there. I felt a shiver run down my spine,” another deejay said.

Officers not related to the case said the Howrah police could have “simplified” the procedure by carrying out the parade in a staggered way to save the victims from the confusion of choosing six from a bunch of 66 at one go.

“The police could have sought more than one date from the court to conduct the TI parade. That would have uncomplicated the process for the victims and the exercise might have yielded better results,” said a senior police officer posted outside Howrah.

When asked why they chose to show all 66 people at a go, a senior officer in Howrah police said: “This is the convention… a 1:10 ratio of an accused and his lookalikes is maintained during a TI parade. The victims will get another chance to identify the accused in the court. They can do better there.”

The accused persons are in judicial custody and last produced before the Uluberia court on September 12 when additional chief judicial magistrate Uluberia instructed the police to complete the TI parade by September 16.

According to legal experts, the parade report acts as a vital piece of evidence in the court if the victim manages to identify the right person.

“The report acts as corroborative evidence and helps the investigating agency nail the accused,” a senior lawyer said.