All the 21 accused in the Best Bakery carnage in Vadodara in the post-Godhra violence in Gujarat were on Friday acquitted by a local court for lack of evidence.
Additional Sessions Judge H U Mahida feared the police may have implicated innocents.
This is the first verdict in a case relating to the post-Godhra communal violence.
Twelve persons were burnt alive in the bakery and two were reported missing on March 1, 2002 during a bandh called by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal after 59 people, most of them returning from Ayodhya, were burnt alive on board the Sabarmati Express near Godhra railway station on February 27 the same year.
The charge sheet in the case was filed on June 24 last year and charges were framed against all 21 accused in March this year, under sections 147, 148, 149, 188, 504, 342, 436, 395, 307, and 302 of the Indian Penal Code.
The trial in the case began on May 9 this year in a fast track court.
Delivering his 24-page judgment, Mahida said, "It was proved beyond doubt that a violent mob had attacked the bakery and killed 12 persons. However, there was no legally acceptable evidence to prove that any of the accused presented before the court had committed the crime."
Nobody from the complainants' side was present in the court premises when the judgment was pronounced.
Out of 73 witnesses who had appeared before the court, 39, including key witness Zahira Shaikh and her entire family, had turned hostile towards the fag end of the trial.
The judge observed that despite years of experience, the police found it difficult to investigate incidents of communal violence, as compared to other cases.
Among other things, he said that there was an unpardonable delay in registering a First Information Report.
Secondly, those arrested, he said, had nothing to do with the carnage and some of them had even helped rescue 65 persons belonging to the minority community from the area around the Best Bakery.
The judge quoted one of the witnesses Lal Mohammed Shaikh, who resided close to the bakery.
Shaikh had told the court that he and 17 members of his family were rescued by some of the accused.
The judge was critical of the police for harassing innocents found at the site of a crime.