KAMPALA. A fresh investigation into the arson that killed 20 girls at Budo Junior School in 2008 has fallen apart after the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) adjudged the evidence “too weak” to sustain any criminal charge.
In a letter to the Director of Criminal Investigations, Ms Grace Akullo, the senior assistant to the DPP, Mr John Baptist Asiimwe, advised that the suspects be released from detention.
“The evidence is too weak, unreliable to sustain any charge against anybody. The suspects who are in custody on the basis of this evidence should be released,” Mr Asiimwe wrote on July 13, 2018.
The inferno at Budo Junior Primary School happened on April 14, 2008, but investigations faded and the case went into limbo.
However early this year, police and the Internal Security Organisation (ISO) revived the investigation into the arson after one Mr Moses Lumu alias Ghetoman claimed he burnt the dormitory on orders of Mr Simpson Birungi, the proprietor of Movit Products Limited.
Detectives arrested Mr Birungi, Mr Lumu, Mr Robert Byamukama, Mr Julius Tumusime and others as suspects.
Mr Byamukama and Mr Tumusime were watchmen at the school at the time of the inferno.
Later in May this year, police released Mr Birungi, but he was rearrested by ISO operatives and detained at the intelligence agency’s facilities for more than two months. He has since been released.
Mr Lumu claimed he was hired by Mr Birungi at Shs70m to burn the dormitory where the deceased girls resided.
Lumu had told detectives that he was paid a deposit of Shs400,000. He said thereafter he and the watchmen went to the school and poured petrol into the dormitory and set it ablaze.
In his statement to police, he said he escaped to Masaka District and returned in 2014 to demand the balance of his pay from Mr Birungi.
However, Mr Asiimwe said after analysing the reports, Lumu’s evidence is “hearsay and unreliable”. He said Mr Lumu’s statement has several contradictions on whether he met Mr Birungi or not, the tools used to burn the dormitory and the motive.
“He (Mr Lumu) never met Simpson Birungi before the incident to agree on the money. Even when they allegedly went to get a deposit from him, he remained metres behind and it was Robert Byamukama who talked and received it from him [Birungi]. In essence he never engaged him. One wonders how he came to demand money from him. This is quite unbelievable,” Mr Asiimwe stated.
He said Mr Lumu’s allegations that he used petrol to burn the dormitory were not proven.
“…the government analytical report dated May 15, 2008 by Emmanuel Nsubuga, the principal government analyst, ruled out the use of petrol or kerosene in burning the school and the cause of the fire was not established. This makes his evidence false and unbelievable,” he said.
He said Mr Lumu and his partner Jeffrey Nkonge had a dispute with Mr Birungi and his sister Janet Tumuhimbise over land worth Shs275m in Lwera, Kalungu District where the latter had paid the former Shs20m deposit.
“This became a source of misunderstandings between the two (Birungi and sister on one side) and Lumu and Nkonge, through their lawyers, issued a demand note that the balance be paid. It sucked in other people, including journalists as the allegations of burning of the school were raised, who (Lumu and Nkonge) even accept receiving the money from Mr Birungi not to expose him,” the DPP observed.
Lawyers of the two parties signed a memorandum of understanding that Birungi’s sister would forgo Shs20m she paid as deposit and Lumu would also stop making allegations against Birungi.
“Important to note also is the fact that Byamukama Robert and Tumusime Julius, who were watchmen at the school, were charged, prosecuted and acquitted on a no-case to answer. They cannot be charged again on the basis of this evidence,” the DPP added.
The DPP spokesperson, Ms Jane Kajuga, said: “It is true that we received the file on Budo Junior School fire. We advised them not to charge any suspects basing on the evidence on the file.”