KUALA LUMPUR: In a landmark ruling, the family of suspected car thief A. Kugan won RM801,700 in damages over his death while in police custody.

His mother N. Indra cried openly upon hearing the verdict Wednesday.

High Court judge Justice V.T. Singham found the police and Government liable for Kugan’s death while being detained at the USJ Taipan police station on Jan 20, 2009.

Justice Singham awarded damages for loss of support, funeral expenses, pain and suffering, assault and battery, false imprisonment, misfeasance of public office and exemplary damages.

He said there was sufficient evidence to establish Indra’s claim against the defendants, saying that custodial death was a serious crime.

“As soon as the crime is reported or comes to public knowledge, the highest authority of police must act promptly and ensure the investigation is conducted promptly by an independent investigation agency, or at least an inquest is held or recommended,” he said.

Indra, 46, had named then Selangor police chief Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar, who is now Inspector-General of Police, former constable V.Navindran, former Subang Jaya OCPD Asst Comm Zainal Rashid Abu Bakar (deceased), the Inspector-General of Police and the Government as defendants.

Justice Singham ruled that the defendants cannot plead ignorance or lack of knowledge as to what happened to Kugan, 22, during his seven-day detention period.

He said the court was unable to accept that the grevious injuries found on Kugan was solely based on an assault incident by Navindran on Jan 16.

He said the nature of injuries on Kugan, who sustained 45 categories of external injuries on his body and wide range of internal injuries, spoke volumes of what had happened during his detention.

Justice Singham, who read out his lengthy judgment for almost two hours, ruled that Khalid and ACP Zainal Rashid were liable for misfeasance in public office.

On the part of Khalid, he said that it was because Khalid had never clarified to the media after giving a statement on Jan 21 that Kugan died due to water in lungs.

“The court wishes to state that no person being in any position, status or rank when testifying in court should take this court for granted and attempt to suppress the truth to escape liability,” he said.

Among others, he said Khalid was able to say that the policemen did not contravene any regulations in conducting interrogation of Kugan but did not conduct any formal departmental inquiry over Kugan’s custodial death.

He also questioned the reason for Khalid not complying with the directive by the Attorney-General to investigate for murder.

In the circumstances and facts of the case, he said the court was not persuaded to accept that there was no cover-up in the cause of death.

He said there was no disciplinary action taken against police officers who made a false entry in the station diary over Kugan’s condition during his detention.

He said although the remand order issued by the Petaling Jaya Magistrate’s court against Kugan on Jan 15, 2009 was lawful, it was abused to inflict grievous injuries to him, causing his detention to become unlawful.

He said there was also a breach of lock-up rules as the USJ Taipan police station was not a gazetted lock-up.

The judge awarded RM50,000 in costs and an interest of five percent from the date of filing of the suit to its full settlement to Indra.

On Jan 13 last year, Indra filed the RM100mil suit seeking damages over alleged negligence, assault, false imprisonment and misfeasance of public office as well as breach of statutory duties.

Navindran, 33, is appealing against his three-year jail term imposed by the Shah Alam Sessions Court in June last year for causing hurt to Kugan.

Speaking to reporters here, Indra’s co-counsel Latheefa Koya said it was a landmark ruling on misfeasance of public office.