Callous cops mishandle key blasts evidence

Aug 03, 2012, 07:07 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon

Throwing caution to the wind, cops using their bare hands transported the cycles used in the blasts to the forensics lab. Such flouting of procedure can prove detrimental during the trial, say experts

The four blasts that hit a kilometre-long stretch in Pune may have been of low intensity but have managed to shake up the administration and citizenry.

Gloves are off: Bicycles being taken to the forensic lab from Deccan Gymkhana police station in Pune. Pic/Atul Kamble

However, even as investigators from various security agencies have started probing what has been confirmed as a planned and coordinated act, photographs indicate that local cops may have obliviously made the inquest a tad more difficult.

Policemen are seen lifting bicycles (in pic) — suspected to have carried the explosives — with their bare hands, while taking them to the forensic lab from the police station.

Colonel (retired) Mahendra Pratap Choudhary, who has trained Mumbai police commandoes in combating terror, told MiD DAY, “I have seen the television footage from last evening wherein a policeman wearing bullet-proof jacket was spotted searching for clues from one of the spots.

This was an absolutely incorrect way of handling the crime scene at the initial stages following a blast. The policeman did not wear a bomb suit, nor did he have any other safety gear like explosives vapour detector or explosives trace detector. It was very evident from the cop’s actions that he was not trained and that he did not have a clue on how to go about collecting evidences from the spot.”

“It is crucial for investigators and forensic scientists that the crime scene remains unaltered so they may gather the smallest of clues about the nature and type of explosives used,” explained Choudhary.

Speaking to MiD DAY, former union home secretary GK Pillai said, “Special training has been imparted to policemen attached with Anti-Terrorism Squads across the country on collection and preservation of evidence from crime scenes. It is usually advisable to wear gloves at the time of gathering clinching evidences from the spot. The job of the local police is basically to protect the crime scene by putting up barricades around it and ensuring nobody trespasses until the ATS and forensic teams arrive.”

Crime scene management
Rukmini Krishnamurthy, former forensic science laboratory (FSL) director and technical advisor to Institute of Forensic Science, said, “Scientific crime scene management is the key to modernising any investigation.

The spot is the wealth of all the clue materials and hence has to be studied and samples collected in a systematic, scientific way studied only by trained and experienced personnel. While collecting samples, people should wear gloves, masks, lab coats etc.

ACP Sunil Deshmukh, who has undergone extensive training on handling explosives, said, “Usually, in the districts it is a routine practice for police constables to collect forensic evidences from the crime scene before the forensic team arrives. But in cases where explosives are used, gloves should be worn and forceps should be used to lift the samples.

This is basically done to ensure that the constable does not injure his hand while gathering evidences, as the chemicals used in the explosions might be lethal.

State director general of police Sanjeev Dayal said, “I wont be able to make any comment unless I look at the photographs.”

“There is no question of evidence being tampered with because policemen loaded the cycles used in the blasts with their bare hands. Forensic experts who visited the spot within the first few hours after the blasts have already collected required evidences to ascertain the nature of the explosions,” said a Pune ATS officer on the condition of anonymity.

Lawyers speak
Criminal lawyer Rizwan Merchant said, "If the evidence is mishandled intentionally, it amounts to tampering. But without that intent, at the trial stage, you may only say that the police have not followed procedures laid out in the Bombay Police Manual."

Though Merchant agrees such mishandling may potentially weaken the case, he emphasised that it is not as serious a breach of protocol, as tampering. He added, "In cases of terrorist attacks, police ought to directly call in experts from the forensic lab and let them collect samples. There is always a chance that evidences can be contaminated if not handled correctly."

Advocate Pradeep Havnur said, "If you are handling samples without gloves, it is nothing short of destruction of evidence, which itself is a cognisable offence under the Indian Penal Code. To secure a conviction, you need to follow scientific methods while collecting evidence. It should be done with utmost precision. Taking into consideration the aspect of ensuring conviction of the accused, this is an offence under IPC."

— Inputs by Samarth Moray

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