Supercopís image often shiny, twice clouded

For nearly three decades, he was held in high regard as an honest and efficient IPS officer. But former Kerala DGP (fire and rescue services) Siby Mathews, now the state's chief information commissioner, finds his reputation at stake for a second time. The first time was for the bungling of the ISRO spy case of 1994; this time he has come in the firing line for the way he handled the Suryanelli rape probe.

The latter case involves a schoolgirl who was lured away from her home in Suryanelli in January 1996 and raped for 40 days by several men at various places in Kerala. The lone person convicted, S S Dharmarajan, as well as the victim's father have alleged that Mathews, then a DIG, had pressured them not to reveal the name of P J Kurien, Rajya Sabha deputy chairman. The father has alleged that Mathews, as head of the investigation team, had pledged that all involved would be convicted if Kurien's name was not revealed. Even retired SP K K Joshwa, who had been with Mathews in probing the ISRO spy scandal, the Suryanelli rape and the Kalluvathukal hooch tragedy, has turned against his former boss. Mathews has rejected the allegation and pointed out that two other teams, which probed the rape before and after his team did, had given a clean chit to Kurien.

The ISRO spy probe had turned out to be false, but by then it had ruined the professional and personal lives of two space scientists and others. The case had been given to Mathews, then a DIG, because of his image of "an honest detective who does not succumb to pressure". The CBI found the case had been fabricated, and that Mathews had ordered the arrest of the scientists without a thorough probe. The CBI blamed the IPS officer for allowing rumours to circulate in the media and recommended action against him in 1996, but the Oommen Chandy government rejected its advice in 2011.

Mathews had built his reputation by cracking a sensational twin murder case in 1980, when he was an ASP in Chengannur. He had picked up the leads in the case, now known as Thiruvalla Karikkanvilla murder, from the prints of a foreign-made pair of shoes at the scene of the crime. In those days, popular Malayalam weeklies would serialise sensational crimes and Mathews acquired the image of a super detective. He also became a darling of media organisations under Christian managements. His career saw several occasions when efforts were made to mobilise public opinion that he should probe major cases. Even after the ISRO probe mess, governments turned to Mathews to investigate high-profile cases. It was the CPM government of 1996-2001 that entrusted the Suryanelli rape and the Kalluvathukkal hooch tragedy probes with the 1977-batch IPS officer.

Alongside his image of uprightness, Mathews was also closely associated with a spiritual congregation of government officials belonging to Christian community that was floated by Divine Retreat Centre of Catholic Church in Thrissur. While an IGP, he had preached the gospel at meetings of Christian officials, exhorting them to find solutions from the Bible.

In later years, the soft-spoken officer became a target of colleagues, including senior IPS officials. A fabricated complaint from a fake address was filed against him in the vigilance court in 2009 when he was serving as ADGP (intelligence). Last August, police registered a case against three persons, including K K Joshwa, in connection with the fake complaint against Mathews. He alleged that a group of junior officials, with the tacit support of senior IPS officials, had plotted against him.

In early 2011, when he had a year of service left, Mathews opted for voluntary retirement. The then CPM government made him the chief information commissioner with the backing of then Opposition leader Oommen Chandy.

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