Vinod Kumar Menon
By: Vinod Kumar Menon
Posted on: 23 January 2017
The trial in 24-year-old Sheena Bora murder case involving Peter Mukerjea, the former CEO of Rupert Murdoch's Star India network, and his wife, Indrani starts from February 1 at the special CBI court in Mumbai.
The story, involving hidden identities, allegations and counter-allegations and arrests has gripped media in India. The story begins in May 2012 when an unidentified body was spotted by villagers near Mumbai. Local police collected the skeletal remains, which were reportedly badly burned. When murder was linked by police to the media tycoon the case attracted widespread media coverage. The story would soon reveal bungling of investigating and forensic agencies.
For a journalist who has closely tracked the case, the investigations have rarely gone well. First there was a mismatch of skeletal remains that were handedover to Khar police team by JJ hospital in August 2015. This was because in 2012, the samples were sent to the hospital by the police but no proper records were maintained of the samples. Worse, neither was descriptions given nor the reports were ever collected by the police.
Forensic experts at the Department of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, to whom all the collected samples from the hospital, were handed over for a re-examination have since submitted a 26-page report to the police pointing out that the bone samples don’t match those that had been collected by the police in May 2012.
According to the 2012 post-mortem report, the samples collected were just four items: right humerus (long bone from shoulder to elbow), a lock of hair, a patch of burnt skin and two teeth.
However, the hospital authorities allegedly handed a completely different set of sample to the police on August 28. The sample size increased to over four. It contained multiple teeth, burnt vertebrae and bones from chest, hair and burnt skin. In addition to these, there were some tiny bones too given as part of the evidence.
In the court document, the CBI has alleged that Sheena Bora was murdered by her mother, Indrani over a property dispute. According to a preliminary forensic report submitted by Nair Hospital to Mumbai Police, the skull exhumed has matched the facial features of Sheena Bora. However, the Nair Hospital experts are not sure whether the tiny bones are even of human origin.
Murder most foul:
When the charred body of an unknown female was found in Gagode Budruk village in Pen taluka in Raigad district on May 23, 2012, it was Dr Sanjay Thakur, posted at Kamarli primary health centre, who had prepared the spot post-mortem report. In his report, he had stated that he had removed the right humerus, two teeth, a sample of burnt skin and a lock of hair from the unidentified body, which was also stated in the first post-mortem report.
Dr Thakur said that he had extracted these four samples and handed them over to the Pen police so that they could send the evidence to JJ Hospital to determine sex, age of the murdered victim, and cause of death. He elaborated that the cause of death could not be ascertained as the body was half-burnt and badly decomposed.
A copy of the spot post-mortem note was given to police, while he preserved his own copy. However Dr Thakur told this writer that he had learnt from senior officials that the Pen police did not make a note of what samples they had accepted, and neither did the Anatomy department at Grant Medical College and JJ Hospital, where the samples were sent for forensic analysis.
Almost a year and a half later, the department prepared its report in December 2013 and declared then that the samples sent were inadequate and so the results had been inconclusive. On August 28, Dr T P Lahane, Dean at JJ Hospital gave the samples to the Khar police, which in turn sent them to the department of Forensic Medicine at Nair Medical College.
The Nair Hospital has already submitted its report to Khar police and has raised serious concerns over the samples given by the JJ Hospital. The report has directed the police to submit the samples to the state Forensic Science Laboratory in Kalina to confirm whether some of the bones are of human or animal origin, and whether the DNA matches with Sheena’s skeletal remains that were recovered in July 2015.
A forensic expert who spoke to this writer, on conditions of anonymity, said that this was a serious lapse on the part of JJ Hospital, which should now answer as to where the extra bones have come from. The original samples collected by Dr Thakur in 2012 — the humerus, teeth, hair– would have helped in the identification of the deceased. The burnt skin would also have helped to ascertain what inflammable substance was used to destroy evidence and whether the body had been burnt before or after death.
The JJ Hospital says that it had returned the samples to the police and that it is now between the Police and the Nair hospital to clear the confusion. The police and the Nair hospital experts filmed the entire process of opening the sealed envelope received from JJ, and even documented the samples received. The evidences will be produced in the court. The question remains who is guilty in the murder mystery that has caught the nation's imagination.
The trial will begin on February 1.
Vinod Kumar Menon is an Editor Special Investigation at MiDDAY, Mumbai
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