mid-day looks into the probe so far to see why the cops, who did not nab the accused initially, arrested him in January this year, 14 months after the event
Divers carry out a search operation for the remains of the student, at Bandra Bandstand. File pics
The Mumbai Crime Branch Unit 09, which is probing the alleged murder of a 22-year-old medical student who went missing from Bandra Bandstand in November 2021, is yet to find any hard evidence to confirm her death. The cops have also made two arrests in the case in January this year without any direct evidence against the accused and added murder charges to the kidnapping case. In view of this, mid-day delved into the course of investigation so far to find out why the accused, both lifeguards, were not arrested earlier and what led to their arrest now.
Mumbai police records show that they carried out the initial 18 days of investigation after the Boisar police, which registered a missing report on November 29, 2021 based on a complaint filed by the woman’s family, found that the last location of the student was in Bandra. Boisar police filed a zero FIR with charges of kidnapping and transferred it to the Bandra police.
Cops search the rocks near Bandstand, Bandra
Bandra police officers had also suspected Mithu Singh, the main accused, but they allegedly did not take steps to locate the victim apart from interrogating Singh. Meanwhile, Singh’s family members alleged that the cops tortured him. They had also complained to the human rights commission in this regard.
A month after the first complaint was filed, the case was transferred to Mumbai Crime Branch Unit 09 headed by Senior Inspector Sanjay Khatale on December 29. SI Khatale still heads the team and monitors the case.
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Initial probe by crime branch
The Unit 09 team found several pieces of circumstantial evidence and the strongest one was the selfie of the woman with Singh before she disappeared. The accused had told the cops that the student had asked him to leave after taking the photo, saying that a male friend was on his way. The cops, however, did not find any evidence of any of her friends visiting Bandstand on that day.
Singh, who initially helped the cops, stopped cooperating after the cops started interrogating him. In view of this, the crime branch team got the necessary permissions to conduct narco analysis, brain mapping and lie detection tests. In a major setback, nothing came out of these tests and Singh was let go.
A crime branch officer who was part of that team said, “We did not arrest him because we did not have sufficient evidence against him at that time. We, however, never gave him a clean chit and continued with our probe.”
The team at that time also found some witnesses who had noticed suspicious behaviour on the part of Singh and his friend Abdul Jabbar Ansari, the other arrested accused in the case, on the night of the incident. As this was not sufficient, SI Khatale decided not to arrest him at that time.
What cops missed
Both the crime branch team and the Bandra police did not carry out search operations inside the sea during the initial days of investigation. This despite having input that Singh had killed the student and dumped her body near the rocks at Bandstand.
Though the probe continued, there were some changes in the investigating team around November-December of 2022. It was after this that cops found some more witnesses.
Recent probe findings
Sources said that a team of officers was assigned to keep tabs on the locality and scan CCTV footage from the area. It was during this that cops found five witnesses, including one who had also recorded a statement with the previous team.
This time, the witnesses not only talked about suspicious behaviour of the two accused but also added that Ansari had allegedly stayed back at Singh’s eatery Meeth’s Kitchen that night, despite his home being just a minute away.
Another witness claimed that he had found the identity card of the student a few days after the Bandra cops started their probe. The witness also claimed when he shared a photo of the card with a family member of the accused, he was told to throw it and delete the photo from his phone.
Yet another witness told the police that he had seen Singh rush towards the Arabian Sea with a life jacket and a buoy ring that night.
All of the statements were recorded under Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure before the magistrate, and Singh was arrested. The accused, while in custody, also confessed to killing the student, following which the crime branch added murder charges in the case.
The investigating team also learnt that Singh, who had claimed that he had not met her before, crossed paths with the woman twice in October and three times on November 29. The cops also suspected him as he had dialled the woman’s number 15 times that night. When asked about it, Singh told the cops that he was trying to locate her as she disappeared from Bandstand after 3 am. Crime branch officers are of the opinion that this was Singh’s attempt at creating an alibi after killing the student.
Asked why they did not arrest Singh initially, an officer of the previous team pointed at the lack of any strong evidence to confirm her death. “None of her belongings were found and the forensic team did not find anything to confirm that she was dead,” the cop said.
This has not changed even now as the current investigating team is also looking for evidence. They are carrying out searches in the sea to find her remains, but the attempts so far have not yielded any result. Efforts are still on to locate the woman’s body. The crime branch has also given nod to carry out a hydrographic survey of the sea near Bandstand for the same.
The investigators, as of now, only have strong circumstantial evidence and witness statements as Singh’s confession is not admissible before the court of law.
Day in 2021 when the case was transferred to crime branch unit 09