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'Always doubted cops, prosecution's case'

After acquittal of the six accused for murdering tourist Stephen Bennett in '06, Bennett's sister Amanda tells MiD DAY that 'police corruption resulted in a ridiculous case not based on facts', family wants CBI to conduct a probe

The six persons arrested for the murder of UK tourist Stephen Bennett (in pic), who was found hanging from a tree in Malsai village, Roha district, Goa in December 2006, were set free last Saturday for lack of evidence. The acquittal has cast doubts on the quality of investigation by the Roha police and later by the Alibaug Crime Branch. Bennett's sister Amanda spoke with MiD DAY from Cheltenham, UK on behalf of the Bennett family, saying that the prosecution's case was "ridiculous" and had no facts or evidence to corroborate it. The family believes that the internal investigation conducted by the Maharashtra Police has far more credence. They also want the CBI to take over the case, as they believe the body would conduct a more thorough probe. They conclude that Bennett's death has to do with the Goan drug mafia, which is said to have links with politicians.

'Will write to PM'
Said Amanda, "The truth has come out, we have always disbelieved the police and the prosecution's case. As predicted, police corruption resulted in a ridiculous case based on no facts or evidence whatsoever."

She added that the family would now approach UK Foreign Secretary William Hague and apprise him of the latest development. "We will request Hague to write a letter to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and reopen the case. We want the probe to be done by the Central Bureau of Investigation. The family is also keeping the option of approaching Indian courts to seek justice. It has been exactly five years since Stephen was killed and the police have not even bothered to look at the evidence that we have collected in connection to the murder of Stephen, who was hacked to death by the drug mafia operating from Goa."

"We are sure that CBI will do a clean investigation based on physical evidence and the financial records (which we have). We have followed the Scarlett Keeling case, which also seems to be fading away without a chance of justice. Nobody is immune from drug-politician-police nexus," said Amanda.

"I am also asking that the police return Stephen's personal effects (this includes �300 cash, camera, driving licence, clothing etc and the brown haversack found at Panvel station," she concluded.

'Errors in facts'
Amanda pointed out inconsistencies in Stephen's death certificate, saying that his name has been written as Stephen John Bennett instead of Stephen Carol Bennett. In another column, their father's name has been wrongly mentioned as James instead of Carol. The date of death is also stated wrong: December 10, 2006, instead of December 7, 2006. And the cause of death column has been left blank. "The discrepancies prove the lethargic attitude of police officials who prepared the inquests," she said.

This means Stephen's children have been unable to get the entire �10,000 (Rs 8 lakh) insurance money. The insurance company has told us they won't process the claim until we submit a correct death certificate," she said.  Stephen's eldest child (22) is working in a UK marketing firm and two others are studying. His wife is a housewife. The family sold their apartment recently and shifted to a smaller house, as they have no source of income.

The murder
Stephen arrived in India on December 3, 2006 according to his passport. But on December 6, he had called his mother from Goa saying he was being intimidated. The next day, he allegedly took a train to Roha.

On December 11, his body was found hanging from a mango tree in the village. On December 14, the police realised they were dealing with murder after speaking to a 10-year-old witness from the village, who allegedly told them a white man had come to the village and was lynched by the villagers.

The order
On December 17, Additional District Judge Vilas Patil passed the acquittal order releasing Ravindra Dalvi, Nathuram Mohite, Vithoba Mene, Ramesh Mene, Kashiram Marathe and Raju Malusare, who were charged with murder and destruction of evidence. Advocate Pravin Thakur, who represented them said, "All the 6 accused who were granted bail by the Bombay HC in 2007 were present in the courtroom, as  the verdict was passed. Our defence has been that my clients are innocent." Thakur added, "Only after I get the copy, the actual grounds for acquittal will be clear."

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