Off the Map: The tragic case of Mahesh Mehta

One of the most common complaints about the justice system is that the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. Either the sentence is too lenient or the law fails to reflect the seriousness of an offence.

The death of 55 year-old businessman Mahesh Mehta is a case in point. The fruit and vegetable wholesaler was robbed after leaving a bank in Thornton Heath at lunchtime on October 19, 2009, in what the police called a ‘senseless and uncontrolled attack.’

Mahesh Mehta
Mahesh Mehta

Mr Mehta died four weeks later on November 13 after developing a chest infection and detectives launched a murder enquiry to widescale publicity.

The victim’s family – who were later praised by a judge for their dignity – described him as their ‘cornerstone’. His nephew told the Croydon Advertiser: “They have not just robbed one person. It is like someone inside of all of us has died.”

But the case concluded earlier this year with the three men who picked out Mr Mehta as a target pleading guilty only to a charge of conspiracy to rob. They each received sentences of less than six years.

You could be forgiven for thinking ‘Why wasn’t it murder?’

The full explanation will no doubt fully emerge at the inquest later this year, but the answer seems to lie in the medical evidence.

After the attack, Mr Mehta spent a week at the Mayday Hospital before being released. He appeared to have made a full recovery and on October 30 returned for a routine operation on his fractured nose.

It was during this stay that he developed a severe chest infection and deteriorated. A postmortem gave the cause of death as fluid on the lungs following surgery. So although the attack played an indirect part in Mr Mehta’s death, it was not a contributory factor.

As a result the three gang members arrested by police for the robbery were charged only with grievous bodily harm with intent rather than murder.

It is for this reason that the case of Mahesh Mehta is not included on our map.

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