Dubai: A Dubai Criminal Court on Wednesday acquitted all three Indian men charged with molesting a four-year-old girl on a school bus in November last year.
The verdict was based on medical and forensic reports, absence of a translator and contradictory confessions made by the accused during investigations.
Neither the girl's parents nor the defendants were present when the verdict was announced in Chamber No 4.
Dismissing the charges of sexual assault, the court said the prosecution's case was based only on the testimony of the child's mother, with little evidence to back it.
Wednesday's verdict came nearly three months after the Indian mother filed a police complaint saying that her child, a student of Gems-run Dubai Modern High School, was sexually assaulted on the school bus on her way back home on November 11 last year.
The allegations sparked a nationwide outcry, prompting many schools, including Gems, to review school bus security.
Many schools announced installing CCTV cameras and GPS to track the movement of both buses and students. Some institutions even announced that they would substitute male conductors with female attendants.
In its 35-page verdict, signed by Presiding Judge Fahmi Mounir Fahmi, and members Judge Jasem Mohammad Ebrahim and Maher Salama Al Mahdi, the court stated that the confessions of the accused - one bus driver and two conductors - were invalid because they were not provided with a translator during the interrogation. This violates Article 70 of the Procedure Law which states that a translator must be present when non-Arabic speakers are questioned.
The "confessions" were inconsistent with forensic reports, the court ruled.
Court papers show that the first defendant J.T. told prosecutors that when the bus stopped, he stepped out to get a bottle of water. Another defendant, M.B., approached the girl, who was the only student in the bus at that time, and held her on his lap.
J.T. told prosecutors that when he returned, he found M.B. and V.S., the second and third accused, groping the girl, who was lying on the seat and crying. J.T. said he joined the suspects in molesting the girl and comforted her by giving her a candy. Records show J.T. saw blood on the girl's clothes and on the seat.
But a forensic examination found no traces of blood on the bus or the girl's clothes
A forensic expert testified that blood traces don't fade away within months and traces, if any, would have been found.
The court also considered reports submitted by a panel of doctors set up by the Justice Ministry concluding that the child is still a virgin and the redness found on her private parts was caused by lack of hygiene and not due to friction or assault. There were no penetrations and any such violations would have left traces, the report added.
Additionally, the court noted that V.S., was not on the bus and several witnesses testified he was onboard another bus at the time of the alleged incident.
The court also considered the defence plea that the suspects were beaten and coerced to confess.
The court noted that the prosecution relied only on the mother's testimony, which was not sufficient as there was little evidence to support it.
The suspects are expected to be released shortly.
The prosecutors have 15 days to appeal.
The girl's parents declined to comment on the verdict.
Acquitted bus driver could be reinstated
The acquitted bus driver in the sexual assault case could be reinstated by his transport company, XPRESS has learnt.
"If everything is clear and the court does not have any objection, we will reinstate the driver," said Col M.L. Augustine, Managing Director of School Transport Services (STS).
The driver, along with two conductors, was suspended in January following allegations of the sexual assault against a four-year-old student of the Modern High School.
An immediate comment was not available on whether the conductors, who are on the payroll of the GEMS school management, would also be reinstated. "If we get the clearance, we will accommodate any change in position the driver may want," said Augustine. Any compensation due to him for the period he was under suspension would also be considered, he added.
Meanwhile, the news of the Indian trio's acquittal on Wednesday was welcomed by their peers who said their morale had taken a huge beating as the fraternity was subjected to social stigma over the past three months.
"People were rude to us and looked at us with suspicion. We hope we will now get our respect back," said driver Kumar Raja.
"We went through a lot of tension. Our families too suffered and were afraid for us," said driver Aneesh of Modern High School.
"During this case, many of our 2,000 drivers and conductors have had their character and integrity questioned, some have been verbally and physically assaulted," a statement by STS said.
Many of the drivers present felt the move to bring in female conductors would have some limitations. "It will be difficult (for the female conductors) to clean the buses," said one of them. "Making children cross the road will also be a problem as women tend to be indecisive," said another driver.
Augustine said the STS, which has introduced GPS and electronic attendance on its buses, has obtained the go-ahead of the Roads and Transport Authority for the installation of CCTV cameras. "We are now waiting for the approval of the police."
GEMS welcomes verdict, cautions against trial by media
GEMS group which was in the eye of a storm over the much-publicised case appears vindicated following Wednesday's vedict. "GEMS Education notes that the Dubai Court has reached a conclusion that no rape or molestation of one of its students by the accused in the case has occurred, thereby conclusively refuting assertions which appeared in certain sections of the media that GEMS Education or Dubai Modern High School has failed to protect its students," a spokesperson for Gems Education said in a media statement to XPRESS.
"From the outset there were question marks surrounding the allegation against the accused, including the fact that one of the accused was not present on the bus on the day of the alleged incident, and the GPS records showing that there was no opportunity for a crime to have been committed during the time and in the location as was alleged. However, as we stated on several occasions, we preferred to leave it to the Dubai Courts to seek the truth, whatever that truth may be. In the interest of the safety and well-being of our students in general, we are thus relieved that the court has now confirmed that no crime has been committed. As GEMS has emphasized throughout, our students' safety is our main priority," said the spokesperson.
"These men are family men, fathers with young children, loving husbands who we understand have endured not only immense emotional, but also physical suffering. Their character and integrity have been subjected to attack by many sections of the community. We would caution against people conducting trials by media, and remember that all accused are innocent until proven guilty. It is important to let justice take its rightful course," the statement added.
- November 11, 2010: Four-year-old allegedly molested by driver and two conductors
- January 9, 2011: Parents file police complaint
- January 13: Three accused in police custody
- March 17: Accused plead not guilty in Dubai Criminal Court of First Instance
- March 23: Court hears defence lawyers who accuse girl's mother of blackmailing school into getting a job.
- April 6: Court holds accused not guilty
Key grounds for aquittal
- NO EVIDENCE IN FORENSICS AND MEDICAL REPORT: No trace of blood or semen was found on the bus or the girl's clothes.
- VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 70: No translator was provided to the three accused during confession, a violation of a Procedure Law.
- INCONSISTENT CONFESSIONS: Confessions made by the accused before the police contradicted medical and forensic findings.