In an important development in the investigation of the gangrape of a 22-year-old photojournalist, the Mumbai crime branch on Tuesday recorded the statement of a witness who was present with three of the accused at a cards club before the crime and heard them receive the call from the fourth accused to reach Shakti Mill at Mahalaxmi on August 22.
Confirming the development, joint commissioner of police (Crime) Himanshu Roy said the crime branch had recorded his statement.
Sources said the witness was present at a card club in a shanty near Mahalaxmi where three of the accused -- Siraj Rehman Khan alias Sirju, Mohamed Kasim Hafiz Sheikh alias Bangali and Chand Abdul Sattar Shaikh -- were present nearly an hour before the gang rape.
“Mohamed Salim Ansari and Vijay Jadhav alias Janu called up Bangali asking them to reach the mill,” the source said.
Meanwhile, senior police officials denied reports that Bangali was a police informer. Officials said he was once arrested by a police constable from Agripada in connection with three cases. The constable called up Bangali a few times after the rape incident and asked him to appear before the police, officials said.
The police are also now looking for a ragpicker who they believe passed the scene of crime at Shakti Mill compound while the photojournalist was being raped.
The ragpicker could become the prime witness in the case and help nail the accused, a senior officer said.
The police also got the five accused to undergo a potency test at JJ hospital on Monday. "The accused in a rape case try to use the argument that they are impotent and incapable of rape. We want to eliminate that defence ploy at the outset," the officer said.
Officials are confident that the evidence they will have against the accused through DNA tests and 'scene of crime rummaging' technique will help them prove the presence of the accused and the survivor at the scene of crime.
The police also expect that the mobile phones of two of the accused - Mohamed Kasim Hafiz Sheikh, alias Bangali, and Mohamed Salim Ansari - will prove their presence at the scene of crime and the sequence of events. While the police have seized Ansari's phones, they are yet to recover Shaikh's mobile phone, which he lost while gambling. "There is a Google mapping technology that will help us prove their movements," the officer said.
Ansari had taken a photo of the survivor, but later deleted it. "There is a technology by which deleted items can be retrieved. We will send the mobile phone to the forensic laboratory. Its result will be added to the chargesheet," the officer added.