Mumbai: Bollywood star Salman Khan was on Thursday acquitted in a 2002 hit-and-run case by the Bombay high court.

The court quashed the five-year prison sentence awarded to the actor by a lower court that found him guilty in May.

“The appeal is allowed. The trial court’s verdict is quashed and set aside. Salman is acquitted of all charges," said justice A.R. Joshi.

Joshi said the prosecution had failed to establish beyond “reasonable doubt" that Khan, now 49, was driving his vehicle and drunk when it ran over a group of homeless men in Mumbai in 2002, killing one of them and injuring four.

Khan, dressed in a black-and-white checked shirt and jeans, lowered his head, sighed, and then looked up again at the judge from the witness box after hearing the verdict.

After walking out of the courtroom and mingling with family, he broke down in tears.

“I accept the decision of the judiciary with humility. I thank my family, friends & fans for their support & prayers," the actor tweeted.

The acquittal is only the latest twist in the often tumultuous life and career of the actor, one of India’s biggest box-office draws, whose two releases this year—Bajrangi Bhaijaan and Prem Ratan Dhan Paayo—have both been smash hits. Together, the two movies have grossed 527 crore, according to the website Bollywood Hungama.

In May, a lower court convicted Khan of culpable homicide on charges that he lost control of his Toyota Land Cruiser when driving drunk, resulting in the accident that left one man, labourer Nurulah Mahbob Sharif, dead.

Khan, who was given bail after the conviction, denied that he was driving the car. In March, the actor’s driver said that he had been behind the wheel.

On Thursday, Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis said that his government will decide its next step after a careful study of the high court’s judgment, when asked if the state would challenge the verdict.

Maharashtra revenue minister Eknath Khadse said that the state government would seek the legal advice of the state’s advocate general.

Businessman Zafar Sareshwala, a long-time friend of Salman Khan, said the judgement should set the case at rest.

“It is all fair to fight legally till the case is settled in a proper legal procedure. That procedure has been followed, and today, we have a judgment. Now, we all need to stop fighting over it and see how we all can help those unfortunate people, who were injured in the accident," Sareshwala said.

Ujwal Nikam, a public prosecutor, said a strong case could still be made out against the film star.

“This happens in many cases and one should not make a big hue and cry about the high court judgment," Nikam said.

He expressed surprise that the high court had not accepted the evidence recorded by witness Ravindra Patil, a Mumbai police constable who was deputed as Khan’s bodyguard and who was in the car with the star at the time of the accident.

Patil, who died in 2007 of tuberculosis, filed the first information report (FIR) against Khan. He said that the actor was speeding and disobeyed his instruction to slow down.

The Bombay high court said Patil was not a “fully reliable witness", citing “various anomalies in his testimony".

Nikam, who was also the public prosecutor in the 1993 Mumbai serial bomb blasts case, said the judgment did raise several pertinent questions about the manner in which the prosecution built the case.

“The HC has asked the prosecution why Kamal Khan, who was the third person in the car, was not called as a witness. This was a big error on part of the prosecution," said Nikam.

Lawyer and activist Y.P. Singh said the case could be put to a retrial if the state government wanted.

“The state government has to make an application to remand the case back to the session court where a retrial can be held. The state government can also challenge the judgment in the Supreme Court. There is a lot of legal merit in the case," he said.

Khan has starred in more than 100 films and television shows since his first hit Maine Pyar Kiya in the 1980s.

Amit Desai, Khan’s lawyer, told reporters that it “had been a long 13 years".

“As far as my client is concerned, it’s a great relief. We are very glad about the outcome," he said.

Singer and musician Adnan Sami said he was “very relieved and happy" over the acquittal.

“It has been a nightmare for him for the past 13 years. I salute and respect the justice served by the honourable Bombay high court," he said.

Dozens of joyous fans gathered outside Khan’s home in Mumbai as news of his acquittal spread, while colleagues in the Hindi film industry tweeted their delight.

“I want to thank God for this," one fan said.

Other Twitter users were less kind, suggesting there was one rule for the rich and another for the poor, lamenting that little attention was being given to the victim.

Lata Jha in New Delhi, AFP and PTI contributed to this story.

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