French police probe debunks metro "hero" story

Thu Oct 13, 2011 1:04pm EDT
 
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PARIS (Reuters) - French police have found evidence suggesting an Indian immigrant who became a folk hero after dying on the tracks of the Paris metro was not, in fact, defending a woman from a thief and may have started a fight himself, a judicial source said.

Rajinder Singh, a 33-year-old Indian man known as "Babu," was lionized across France last week after police said he had been shoved onto a live rail and electrocuted trying to stop a thief from stealing an iPhone from a female passenger.

France's culture and transport ministers attended a memorial service for Singh. Newspaper le Parisien lauded him with a full-page article headlined "Babu, hero of the metro," and held up his life story as an inspiring, up-by-the-bootstraps immigrant's tale. Two groups offered to pay to send his body back to India.

However, video surveillance footage viewed later by police showed that Babu had not been fighting with a thief before he fell onto the rails, the judicial source said.

Instead, Singh was with four friends in the subway car when he got into an altercation with a young man who was trying to hand out sweets to other passengers.

When the group exited the subway car, Singh threw a first punch at the young man and jostled with him until he was pushed down, losing his balance and falling onto the rails.

An Egyptian man was arrested last Friday and charged with "voluntary violence having led to death without the intention of killing," the source said.

By Thursday, as news emerged that the story was not all it had been built up to be, media changed their tune. A commentator for France Info radio called Singh "Babu the fake hero."

(Reporting By Nicholas Vinocur and Thierry Leveque; Editing by Peter Graff)