HC asks district officials to take over police station

The police is not cooperating with the probe into the custodial death and alleged torture of father-and-son duo P Jayaraj and J Bennicks, the Madurai bench of the Madras high court observed on Monday, ordering the Thoothukudi collector to depute revenue officials to take control and preserve evidence in the police station where the alleged crime occurred last week.

In an order, the court also directed forensic experts to assist in the process of evidence collection at Sathankulam police station and said it will not interfere with the Tamil Nadu government’s decision to transfer the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

Late in the evening, the state government formally transferred the case to the federal agency following the court’s order that it was the policy decision of the government. A notification by the government stated that the CBI would “facilitate a free and fair investigation”.

The court’s order came after it received an email report from the Kovilpatti judicial magistrate Barathidasan. “A reading of [the report] clearly shows that the district police administration are doing everything within their command to prevent the learned magistrate from proceeding with the enquiry,” the bench of justices PN Prakash and B Pugalendhi said in the order.

The court initiated a contempt case against three officials — additional deputy superintendent of police D Kumar, deputy superintendent of police C Prathapan and constable Maharajan. Accused of obstructing investigations and making an abusive remark against the magistrate, they were asked to appear before court at 10.30am on Tuesday. The court was of the view that the investigation will not be free and fair unless they are transferred.

“The policemen were not giving the records called for by the learned magistrate and it is seen that one of them, viz, Maharajan, police constable, Sathankulam police station, had made a very disparaging mark in Tamil to the learned magistrate,” the court order read.

Last week, the bench took suo-motu cognisance of the case that sparked nationwide outrage.

Bennicks, 31, and Jayaraj, 59, died on June 22 and June 23, respectively, after undergoing hours of alleged torture at the Sathankulam police station on June 19. The First Information Report (FIR) filed by the police booked them under several sections, including sections 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant) and 353 (use of force to deter public servant from duty). However, eyewitness accounts refute the claims in the FIR, stating that the duo was tortured severely.

The court on Monday directed that a photocopy of the preliminary post-mortem certificate be submitted to its registrar, the original copy should be sent to the chief judicial magistrate of Thoothukudi, who in turn should submit it to the Central Bureau of Investigation. The Thoothukudi police have suspended inspector Sridhar, and two sub-inspectors P Raghuganesh and Balakrishnan in connection to the deaths.

A lawyer, A K Venugopal, told HT that he was in the Sathankulam police station for another case with six other lawyers from 7pm. “Inspector Raghuganesh brought Jayaraj in by his collar around 7.45pm,” said Venugopal adding that Bennicks came later and tried to stop the police when he saw his father being hit. CCTV footage released by local television media on Monday which HT could not independently verify also showed that there was no altercation or crowding in the mobile shop.

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