Beware of fake hit-and-run cases

I got an oral summons from the Frazer Town traffic Police station on November 22nd 2009. While I kept racking my brain to remember if there were any unpaid parking tickets, I was shocked to find out that my car number was cited in a hit-and-run case on Nov 8. It made even less sense because on that day, I was not even in town. I was traveling to Mumbai the entire week on business!

I took relevant hotel/ flight reservation details to the police station. The complainant did not show up. The police felt convinced that I was not involved. In fact the complainant had not even quoted the entire registration number and they were investigating a bunch of leads. They offered to take photographs of me and the car – that way I didn’t even come again to get identified by the complainant.

In my naivete I saw no objections to it as I was not even remotely connected to the case. But there in started my troubles. Though the traffic police station subsequently closed the complaint because of dead-ends, the complainant promptly pursued lodged an attempt-to-muder complaint against me in the nearby law and order station Bharathi Nagar on December 17.

Only this time he had cited the entire registration number and “identified” me using the photographs! The police officials were oblivious of the previous complaint and how the evidence has been manipulated. I had to prove my innocence all over again. I was clearly ruffled this time around as I was against a crooked adversary and if I fail to convince the police I will be charged under a non-bailable offence. While the flight tickets, hotel reservations and business expense reports helped to establish my absence, the dents in my car (Which car is spotless in Bengaluru?) did not help my case.

The police believed that I was out of town but I could still have loaned the car to someone. It was now my word against his – the court has to intervene in such cases. Given the number of backlogs in the magisterial court, it could take several months to sort this out.

Luckily for me, the Assistant commissioner of Police BB Ashok Kumar of Pulakeshi Nagar took an interest in the matter. He did a comprehensive investigation and concluded that complainant’s testimony was filled with inconsistencies. I am glad the case is closed to getting over now. But I still had to miss several days of work, not to mention how those weeks were fraught with anxiety for everyone at home.

The more I thought about this, the fragility of this situation dawned on me. For instance (a) my business trip was purely coincidental, I could very well be watching TV at home and I would not have had an alibi, (b) cars/ bikes are routinely parked in public eye, a simple observation of the owner and dents on the vehicle could lead to more such malicious complaints. Such complaints will not hold water in a court of law but I still suspect a sizeable fraction of these ‘soft targets’ will agree to some sort of financial settlement. After all who wants to be running around / harassed amidst a busy work schedule.

Something I have learned is never to give out hard evidence like photographs or written statements without legal counsel. They could easily be manipulated against you. It is important to be proactive – to know your rights and find access to information. A good place to get help is through your company’s HR and security managers. Also never get talked into out-of-court settlements in such situations as it sets a dangerous precedent in our society.   ⊕

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