Kochi: The father of 18-year-old Mishel Shaji, who was found dead in the Kochi backwaters in March 2017, has refused to accept the suicide theory put forth by the probe officers and alleged that evident leads in the case were not pursued.
Mishel's father Shaji Varghese also alleged that Kerala Police chief Loknath Behara and the Crime Branch had misled him.
He made the allegations after the Crime Branch released the images of two people, seeking information from the public.
Earlier, when Shaji Varghese had approached the DGP, seeking to make enquires about the two people who were seen following Mishel in CCTV visuals, Behara had assured him that they were questioned and let off after it was found that they had no links to the case.
The Crime Branch had also given him a similar reply.
"Now, they have released the photos of the same people," he pointed out.
The CCTV images had shown that when Mishel was leaving the Kaloor Church in Kochi, two bike-borne men were following her.
Shaji had alleged from the beginning that these two had links to Mishel's death.
He had come to know that even when the Crime Branch submitted the affidavit in the High Court, asserting it to be a case of suicide, no probe was made on these two people.
He pointed this out to the DGP, who then assured that the two people were already questioned.
However, after the new notice was released on the two people, Shaji approached the police again.
"The police said that they had then questioned two lookalikes of the people seen in the CCTV images. However, the police are now saying those questioned were not the ones seen in CCTV images," Shaji said.
However, Crime Branch DySP Immanuel Paul, who is currently heading the probe team, said cops were yet to find any evidence that linked the people in the CCTV images to Mishel's death.
The images were released now to ensure that no links were left out as doubts continued to be raised.
Mishel Shaji, a student of chartered accountancy, went missing after she left her hostel on March 5, 2017. It had created a furore then and raised concerns over women safety in Kerala.
Her body was found from the Kochi backwaters the next day. Her father alleged that the police were trying to dub the incident as a suicide from the very beginning.
Shaji said that his relatives, seeking a probe into the girl's death, had to go three days to the Ernakulam central police station before they were able to file the complaint.
"While accepting the complaint, the then CI Ananthlal said that they would not be able to prove Mishel's death no matter where they went. With this preconceived notion, the police began the investigation and submitted reports," Shaji alleged.
“A cop from the Island station, who was present when Mishel’s body was retrieved from near the Ernakulam wharf, told me that it did not even appear to have been left in the water for more than two hours," Shaji said. However, probe officers said it had been 22 hours. “But the body did not have any such signs. Moreover, they were blood markings on both hands as if someone had pressed them down while she was alive. These are all clear from the video visuals,” Shaji explained.
Shaji also said the hospital picked for carrying out the autopsy was changed in the last minute, hinting at foul play.
“It was first decided that the autopsy should be carried out at the Ernakulam General Hospital and the body was taken there. However, the police suddenly changed the plans and said that autopsy should be done at the Kalamassery Medical College Hospital. When we asked why the sudden change in plan, the cops said they got instructions from the higher-ups on this. We doubt if the cops colluded over this," Shaji said, adding that he also had suspicions about the woman forensic doctor who examined the body.
However, the police explained that victims of mystery deaths and murders were not examined at the Ernakulam district hospital. These are generally referred to the Medical College Hospitals for detailed examinations. After suspicions were raised in the girl's death, the police said that the body was sent to the Kalamassery Medical College Hospital that had more facilities and experienced forensic surgeons.
CBI or not, find the truth
Shaji had approached the High Court, seeking a probe by Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), after finding that the probe into this daughter's death was not heading in the right direction.
The Crime Branch had submitted an affidavit in the High Court that it was a suicide after the preliminary investigation.
“If the cops are telling she committed suicide, they should also say the reason for it,” Shaji said, adding that there were no such reasons.
Shaji pointed fingers at a youth who had pestered Mishel with his romantic overtures. Despite clear evidence of the youth threatening his daughter, Shaji said the police probe did not pursue this angle.
“The police are saying he is out on bail,” Shaji added.
The father firmly believes that the culprits have intervened in the investigation.
"I just want the truth out. I am not insisting that the CBI should probe the case. I came to know the new DySP is taking interest in the case. He said he released the images now to find the missing links in the case," Shaji said.
Shaji alleged the police have not conducted any investigation on the mobile tower location when Mishel went missing.
"Whom did she last speak to over the phone? Or who rang her up last? No probe officer sought answers to these questions. Though I personally approached the mobile phone company, the official told me that such information can be handed over only to the police," Shaji said.
Shaji also pointed out that Mishel's watch and ring were missing when her body was retrieved.
"I do not think these would go missing on their own. Then who removed them?" Shaji sought to know. Shaji said this was proof that someone had murdered Mishel and dumped her body in the backwaters.
The police said Mishel jumped off the Goshree bridge after obtaining visuals of a woman walking towards the bridge. However, Shaji said the woman in the visuals was not his daughter. He also raised suspicion that the visuals could have been fabricated.
"Also, the bodies of two people who had jumped from the same bridge were disfigured. However, there were not such marks on Mishel's body. If a body floats in the backwaters for 22 hours, then it would have started to decay. Plus, there would be markings of fish bites. Also, there would be water in the stomach and lungs of a person who had drowned. All these were absent in Mishel's body, as per the post-mortem report and the video footage of that day," Shaji said.
The Crime Branch still stands by its earlier claim that Mishel had committed suicide. "We have been probing all aspects of various suspicions that have been raised in the case. There is no evidence that points at murder. We had tried to convince Mishel's father about the points he raised. However, he is not ready to accept several facts. We had questioned all the suspects and took the help of forensic experts. To counter the allegations of fish bites, we had confirmed it by checking reports on other similar instances. We had thoroughly checked details such as the phone number of a relative who last spoke to Mishel, the time and area where phone got switched off. The phone got switched off in Kaloor. We had also taken the statements of a relative who had last spoken to her," DySP Immanuel Paul said.