‘There was a bang sound, like a firecracker’: Anuj Bidve’s friends give evidence at murder trial of Salford’s Kiaran Stapleton

By Mihaela Ivantcheva

Anuj Bidves’s friends told a murder trial yesterday of the terrifying moment when the Indian student was shot dead at point blank range on the streets of Salford last Boxing Day.

The four gave evidence at Manchester Crown Court from behind a screen at the trial of Kiaran Stapleton. Stapleton, 21, of Regent Square, Ordsall, admits manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility but denies murder.

Nitish Jalali, Sarang Kulkarmi, Sourav Mukherjee and Preetika Singh recalled the incident and the moments leading to the death of Mr Bidve, 23.

The jury heard how in the early hours of Boxing Day, the nine male and female Indian students made their way from the Etap Hotel, in Trafford Road, where they were staying, to Manchester city centre to queue up early for the Boxing Day sales.

The group were visiting Manchester for the Christmas holiday.

Mr Kulkarmi, who studied together with Mr Bidve at Lancaster University, said the group’s initial plans were not to walk but the reception at the hotel informed them that a taxi to the city centre would cost £60.

“None of us knew the area”, Mr Kulkarmi said.

They left the hotel at 12.30am on Boxing Day and decided to walk using a GPS on a mobile phone that directed them down Ordsall Lane.

While making their way in loose groups on the right side of the road, they saw two men on the opposite side who were walking together.

One of them, a man wearing a white hooded jacket, crossed the road and walked ‘casually, not in a hurry’ towards the group, with ‘his hands in his pockets’.

Mr Kulkarmi told the jury that there was ‘nothing unusual’ about the gunman when he approached them and asked the time.

“Nobody wanted to interfere and cause trouble, so we continued walking,” Mr Kulkarmi said.

“There was a group decision to ignore the man,” he added.

Mr Jalali said he felt ‘anxious’ and advised the group ‘to ignore him and keep on walking’.

As he did not receive a reply, the man asked for a second and third time. “I felt something was different. He was probably not satisfied from the fact that we did not answer the first time,” Mr Kulkarmi said.

By the time Mr Kulkarmi replied that it was 1.30am, the man produced a gun and without a warning shot Mr Bidve in the head.

“I said it was 1.30am and at that very moment I heard a loud bang like a small firecracker,” he said.

“There was a bang sound, it sounded like a firecracker. Then Anuj fell flat, face first,” Mr Jalali told the court. He said he could see the gunman’s expression and hear a ‘sarcastic laugh’.

“The rest of the group was just running away from the scene of the incident but at the same time we were all surprised because we had not expected anything. I saw him laugh. I did not hear him laugh. There was a bit of screaming,” said Mr Kulkarmi, who also told the jury that at that time the gunman was standing behind Mr Bidve who was lying on the ground.

The third witness, Mr Mukherjee said he saw a spark near Mr Bidve’s head and also heard a noise like a firecracker.

“His eyes were half shut, there was slight breathing. I tried to talk to him but he did not respond,” Mr Mukherjee said. Then he said he heard the girls screaming and crying.

By this time the gunman turned and ran back towards the end of the street.

The fourth witness, Miss Singh, told the jury that she heard ‘a loud noise, like a huge cracker that has been burst’.

“I didn’t turn around. I heard someone crying and panicking. We did not know what to do,” she said.

“I saw someone was lying on the floor. The next thing I heard was ‘It is Anuj, it is Anuj’,” she told the jury.

“I had a glance at the person standing in the middle of the road. But I didn’t want to look at him. I saw a smirky smile on his face.”

She said blood was all around Mr Bidve’s head and that the girls started running as someone shouted ‘Girls run!’.

“We thought there might be multiple shots so we turned around. I had a glance at Anuj. We all decided we should stay together.

“Sourav went to Anuj. I could hear him say ‘Don’t sleep Anuj, don’t sleep Anuj’,” she said

Mr Bidve, who arrived in the UK last September, was studying micro-electronics at Lancaster University.

His parents, Subhash and Yogini Bidve, who have flown from their home in Pune, India, heard the statements of Mr Bidve’s friend.

The trial continues.

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