The Lahore High Court on Monday observed that if the police had taken action in 2015 ─ when the first case against a serial killer was reported in Kasur ─ the rape and murder of six-year-old Zainab could have been prevented.
A two-member bench of the high court was hearing Zainab's case when the director general of Punjab's Forensic Science Agency submitted a report to the court, stating that DNA tests had confirmed that Zainab was raped and murdered by the same serial killer who was responsible for other similar cases in Kasur.
When asked, the director general told the court that the first case was reported in 2015. He added that at the time, a joint investigation team had been formed and DNA tests were conducted.
Read more: Justice for Zainab: 6-year-old's rape, murder highlights all that is broken in our political system
Last year, it became clear that a serial killer was behind the cases, the DG added.
"Your investigations should have started in 2015," LHC Chief Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah said.
"We were trying to find evidence to base our investigation on," the court was told.
"If you had taken action at the time, Zainab's case could have been prevented," the chief justice said.
The additional advocate general, also present during the hearing, told the court that 108 cases of rape are pending before the sessions courts in Kasur. He added eight of the most recent cases have not been traced as yet.
"These cases should be heard on a daily basis," the chief justice said, as he sought Zainab's complete medical reports.
Monday's hearing was conducted as the 36-hour deadline given to police by the high court to arrest the culprit behind Zainab's murder lapsed without any breakthrough in the case.
Zainab's case will also be taken up by the Supreme Court tomorrow [Tuesday].
During today's hearing, IG Nawaz submitted a report before the bench which detailed efforts made by the police to recover Zainab after her uncle reported her missing on Jan 4.
The report, which was acquired by DawnNews, stated:
Search operations were launched by teams headed by subdivisional police officers and eight station houses officers after Zainab was reported missing.
A "proclamation was made immediately on [the] local cable network".
1,100 suspects have been interrogated.
During the search operation, under-construction houses were raided. "After hectic efforts, the dead body of Zainab was found... 0.5 kilometres from her house."
The postmortem examination, carried out by the Women Medical Officer, showed that Zainab had been raped and sodomized prior to her death.
Police personnel were deputed to go over CCTV footage from cameras installed on roads in the "area of suspicion".
"In the end, the IT team managed to work out video footage of an unidentified suspect carrying the abducted girl in a remote area of Peru Wala Road, Kasur."
However, because the quality of the footage was poor, the Punjab Forensic Science Agency was approached and a "slightly better picture of the suspect was developed and has been widely distributed".
The joint investigation team probing Zainab's case "had already made efforts in [an] investigation of [a] similar nature since September 2017".
This included linking up 7 previous cases with the same suspects since 2015 and the detailed interrogation of more than 200 suspects.
The report also contains data on the cases of assault against minors in Punjab during the past year:
In 2017, 515 children in Punjab were assaulted and over 500 criminals have been arrested.
137 cases of assault were registered against female minors.
135 criminals have been arrested in cases concerning female minors.
In the past year, 15 female children under the age of ten were murdered after being raped. In these cases, 19 criminals have been arrested and
Also in the past year, 10 male children under the age of 10 were murdered after being raped.
Community involved to hunt down serial killer
On Sunday, the Punjab police chief constituted teams comprising police officials and public representatives at union council and ward levels to conduct a house-to-house search to reach the ‘serial killer’ involved in Zainab's case.
Earlier, 10 police teams were conducting the search without involving the local community.
The reconstituted teams, along with area councillors, launched a door to door search operation in Road Kot and adjoining localities.
Police also decided to conduct DNA tests of a member of each family during the search operation. “If the result matches with that of the accused, it will help police unmask the culprit,” a senior police official said.
The JIT has managed a mobile DNA laboratory in Kasur for speedy results.
Zainab goes missing, is found
Zainab went missing on January 4 while heading towards a relative's home. Her bruised body was found a few days later in a dump in the city.
The news shocked the entire country with #JusticeforZainab becoming the rallying cry while violent protests broke out in Kasur.
The six-year-old's autopsy had confirmed that she was strangled to death. It suggested that she had been raped before being killed.
At least four agencies — the Counter Terrorism Department, the Intelligence Bureau, the Special Branch and the Punjab Forensic Science Agency — have been seized with the case and each agency has arrested suspects separately while investigating the matter.
However, no major headway has been made in the case since Zainab's body was found.