A pair of white sneakers give snatchers away in Delhi

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A spree of chain snatchings took place in the Burari area of North Delhi, making law enforcement officers wonder if a gang was on the prowl. As police pored over surveillance camera footage, they found some clues – a motorcycle with a broken number plate, ridden by three men wearing helmets, and using the same escape routes. But that is where the trail went cold. At some point in all the CCTV videos, the men, having never shown their face, would disappear by driving outside the range of the cameras.

All the gold chains in the snatching incidents were recovered from the homes of the criminals. The bike used in commission of crime was stolen from Libaspur in 2021 which has also been recovered, police said. (Representational Image)

Police noticed that the trio carried out six snatchings in some 40 days in the Burari area, prompting a special team to be set up to catch them.

But there was little headway in the case until, one day, an investigator zoomed in on the shoes one of the snatchers was wearing in case after case: a pair of white Adidas sneakers.

“On scanning the CCTV videos, we realised the snatchers changed their clothes on the roadside after committing the crime,” said Sagar Singh Kalsi, the deputy commissioner of police (north). “But not their shoes.”

To explain how the shoes were the clinching clue, Kalsi elaborated the sequence of the probe. “All the snatching incidents were spread around three police beat areas close to Hiranki, which borders Alipur and Swaroop Nagar. The escape routes were fixed and finite, and the locations were more or less the same — lanes leading to the main road and exits to Hiranki border. When CCTV footage was scanned, we could not get a single image without a helmet. But a bike with broken number plate was found common in all the incidents,” he said.

At the same time, local intelligence led investigators to a mobile phone number that belonged to one of the snatchers.

Rajendra Prasad, the station house officer (SHO) of Burari police station, said: “It was put under surveillance, in which it was found that at 12.30pm on Tuesday, the mobile was used at Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh. After one hour, it was being used 70km from Ujjain, heading towards Delhi. This made us believe that the user was travelling towards the Capital.”

Investigators then correlated the tower pings with train routes, and zeroed in on a Delhi-bound service. “Our team took a chance with one Delhi-bound train. Six members boarded it to look for the suspect, about whom we knew little,” Prasad said.

It was here that the team chanced upon the same Adidas shoes, worn by a man sitting in the middle of a group of women. “The shoes gave him away — Sunil Khatri of Bankner was detained. He confessed after a quick interrogation and the team stopped the train at Faridabad. At Khatri’s instance, two other snatchers, Sonu Singh alias Amit and Pradeep Kumar alias Dontyi – both neighbours of Khatri — were also arrested. Even at the time of their arrest, they were wearing the same Adidas sports shoes,” Prasad said.

“All the gold chains in the snatching incidents were recovered from the homes of the criminals. The bike used in commission of crime was stolen from north-west Delhi’s Libaspur in 2021 and it has also been recovered from the house of one of the accused,” the SHO added.

“Perhaps, they could not anticipate that their shoes will lead the police to them. A clever premeditated criminal might do a great job of taking precautions, but minor evidence can be left behind. In this case, their shoes gave them away,” he said.

Naveen Kumar, a professor with the psychology department of Delhi University, said criminals can rarely erase all evidence from crime scene. “In this case, even if they had thrown away the shoes, something else could have established their identity.”


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