Arrests, shootouts and conflicting motives for PC’s midnight murder
The main suspects involved in the murder of the police constable at Kurunegala has been shot dead and two others arrested, with one more evading arrest, but the motive for stripping and killing a policeman and attempting to kill the other remains a mystery.
Police say the breakthrough in the investigations came from close analysis of CCTV footage picked up from a filling station in Weveldeniya, where the four-member gang had carried out a robbery, taking Rs. 72,000 from the till hours before committing the Kurunegala murder.
An officer involved in the investigation said that all four suspects had their faces covered but police were able to release a sketch of one of the suspects to the media along with the CCTV footage.
“We received a telephone call from a person from Wennappuwa who said that it was his vehicle that was seen in the CCTV footage shown in the news bulletins. The vehicle had been borrowed by one of his friends few days prior to the incident,” the officer said.
Police took the friend into custody.
That man claimed to have obtained the vehicle to be rented out to a group of people. Police found that the group were associates of a criminal, Sameera Priyadharshana, who is currently in the Negombo prison for a drug offence. The gang members had known Sameera while they were also serving time in jail.
“Investigations revealed that the driver of the vehicle was Tilak Bandara from Kekunadura, Matara,” the police officer involved in the case told this paper.
“After he was arrested we apprehended another suspect known as Tennakoon Bandara from Ududumbara, off Kandy. Both of them were army deserters. On information they provided we found the whereabouts of the man who is supposed to have killed the policeman. He was Tharoosha Niluka, originally a resident of Matara.”
Tharoosha had gone to Rangala, near Kandy, after the murder at Kurunegala. Police waiting in ambush confronted him at Ududumbura last Saturday. But on the following day he was shot dead by the police in a similar manner to which certain suspects have been killed.
“He was shot dead as he tried to throw a hand grenade at the policemen when he was taken to recover one of the weapons hidden in a jungle in Ududumbura,” police spokesman SSP Ajith Rohana said.
But civil rights organisations have condemned the manner in which suspects in cases have been shot dead by the police on the pretext that they tried to either shoot, throw grenades or escape from police custody.
Police say the gang involved in the constable’s killing had been operating from the Thimbirigaskatuwa area of Negombo where they had been renting an expensive house.
A trishaw driver had found them the house; they had told him that they were businessmen. But they had no furniture in the house, and the trishaw driver had been bringing them their meals.
The motive for the Kurunegala constables killing remains a mystery despite claims by police that the two policemen had been “abducted” from where they had been on traffic duty at Gettuwana, Kurunegala around midnight on April 7.
Police said the gang had stopped close to where the two policemen had been stationed during an incident when the constables had been questioning a woman driving a car. The woman had claimed she had left home following a domestic dispute. Police said her husband had turned up while she was being questioned by the constables and that after persuasion she had decided to return home.
“After the two vehicles (driven by the man and his wife) left the van’s passengers had expected to be able to leave but were stopped by the two officers.
“The gang had planned that in the event of the police stopping the van they would grab the constables and drag them into the vehicle. Accordingly, when they were stopped, the two officers were dragged into the vehicle,” police said, citing their investigations and statements given by the suspects.
Police investigators claim that the gang had killed one of the policemen as they had a grudge against police after some of them had been arrested and charged over a number of cases. The main suspect who was shot dead last Sunday had 20 charges concerning illicit liquor and was a declared wanted criminal.
Some police sources, however, initially said the murder of the constable was a contract killing as one of the policemen had been having an affair with the wife of an airman.
They said that the killing had been planned in advance and that one member of the gang had known the constables. “Therefore they did not forcibly take the two policemen – they had held a discussion with them and taken them into the van saying they would return them to the location soon,” one source said.
Police are due to question an inmate in the Negombo jail and arrest three other suspects.
The same gang is reported to have been involved in the Commercial Bank robbery at Seeduua where a bank clerk was stabbed and money was removed and in the recent robbery of another jewellery shop and foreign currency exchange centre.