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MUMBAI:  Actor Salman Khan is not guilty in the 2002 hit-and-run case, the Bombay High Court ruled today, overturning his conviction by a lower court in May and dropping all charges against him. The 49-year-old superstar broke down after hearing the verdict.

“The decision of the trial court is set aside. Salman Khan is acquitted of all charges,” the court said in an order that it started reading out three days ago.

“On the basis of evidences produced by the prosecution, (Salman Khan) cannot be convicted, no matter how differently the common man thinks,” the judge explained.

Salman Khan, one of Bollywood’s biggest stars with Rs. 200 crore riding on him, was in court when the judge announced that he had been acquitted and asked the police to return his passport.

The actor had been sentenced to five years in jail by the trial court, which had held him guilty of killing a man with his SUV after a night out drinking.

The high court said that the prosecution had failed to establish beyond doubt that the actor was driving and was drunk at the time of the accident.

The court discredited the testimony of a key prosecution witness – Mr Khan’s bodyguard Ravindra Patil – who had said that the actor was driving drunk and had ignored his repeated warnings. Mr Patil died in penury in 2007.

“If the witness is partly reliable, then corroboration is required. Ravindra Patil cannot be considered as a wholly reliable witness,” the court said, asserting that the sessions court had made a mistake by relying on his statement.

The court observed that the manner in which evidence like bar bills had been collected suggested fabrication.

Not questioning singer Kamaal Khan, who was also in Salman Khan’s car that night, was also a major error, said the court.

In the early hours of September 28, 2002, the actor’s Toyota Land Cruiser crashed into five men sleeping outside the American Bakery in Bandra. One man died and four were injured.

Salman Khan has said that his driver Ashok Singh was behind the wheels.

Three years ago, speaking on an NDTV show, the actor had said that “only a Dabangg (fearless) judge could set him free.” (NDTV)