Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Two cleared of murdering Michaela McAreavey on her honeymoon

Chaotic scenes sparked by 'not guilty' verdicts

Two men have been found not guilty of murdering Northern Ireland schoolteacher Michaela McAreavey
John and Michaela McAreavey outside Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France.
Michaela McAreavey was found strangled in her hotel room

Two men acquitted of murdering honeymooner Michaela McAreavey in Mauritius last night expressed joy and relief as their lawyers insisted the real culprit could still be found.

Sandip Moneea and Avinash Treebhoowoon were mobbed by relatives and supporters in chaotic scenes both in and outside the Supreme Court in Port Louis sparked by their unanimous not guilty verdicts.

Fireworks were let off and chants of "justice, justice" rang out in the packed courtyard as the two former hotel workers emerged, followed soon after by their triumphant barristers carried shoulder high.

Amid the celebrations, lawyers Sanjeev Teeluckdharry and Rama Valayden launched a scathing attack on the Mauritian police team that had extracted a so-called murder confession from Treebhoowoon and demanded a fresh probe into the crime.

The tragic newlywed's widower John was not there to witness the loud and boisterous aftermath of the verdicts, having quickly walked out of court with family members as soon as they were read out.

Afterwards a statement from Mrs McAreavey's relatives said words could not express their desolation.

The nine jurors took just over two hours to find both men not guilty of murdering the daughter of Tyrone gaelic football manager Mickey Harte in the island's luxury Legends hotel last January.

The 27-year-old teacher was found dead in the bathtub of her deluxe room shortly after lunching with her husband at a poolside restaurant.

Both defendants worked at the hotel at the time .

Outside court Treebhoowoon embraced his crying wife Reshma.

"My wife and I are very happy," he said.

He also expressed sympathy for the McAreaveys and Hartes.

"I am so sad about the lady," he said. "But I did not do this, I did not kill this lady. I am sure by god."

Moneea wept as he hugged his lawyer Rama Valayden.

"I am so happy to be back with my family," he said. "These past 18 months have been very, very hard."

He credited Mr Valayden, Mauritius's former attorney general, for delivering him from his nightmare.

"The lord Rama has come to save me," he shouted.

Shortly after the trial ended, the Harte and McAreavey families issued a brief statement conveying their bitter disappointment.

"After waiting eighteen months in search of justice for Michaela and following the endurance of seven harrowing weeks of this trial, there are no words which can describe the sense of devastation and desolation now felt by both families," the statement read.

The six men and three women of the jury retired to consider their verdicts after a four hour 15 minute address by judge Prithviraj Fecknah, who directed them on the law and relevant issues to consider during deliberations.

The defence lawyers had insisted the confession statement signed by Treebhoowoon three days after the crime was a fabrication that had been extracted by police brutality.

The Legends room cleaner claimed he had been beaten repeatedly, whipped on the soles of his feet, grabbed in the groin and been stripped naked before his head was plunged into water so many times he vomited blood.

Mr Valayden compared the case to past mis-carriages of justice involving Irish people.

"This is what happens when we rush to find justice, like it was in the Birmingham six, like it was in the Guilford four," he said.

"Wherever in the world, when we rush to try to find justice we always fail."

He claimed the Mauritian police's major crime investigation team (MCIT) had ignored vital evidence that would have identified the real killer in their haste to find someone to blame quickly.

The lawyer demanded the MCIT be disbanded and a new unit take on a fresh investigation.

"My message to the McAreavey family is: don't despair," he said.

"We will find the real guilty persons and I can promise to the Irish nation that I as Rama Valayden, and my friend Mr Sanjeev (Teeluckdharry) will join me, we will continue our effort in order to find the guilty person."

As he had done during the trial, he highlighted that four finger prints belonging to neither the two accused or the McAreaveys were found in the room where the honeymooner was strangled.

He also noted that unknown DNA traces had been recovered on her body.

"All our friends in Ireland let me tell them again we promise them we will not leave any stone unturned in order to reopen the inquiry, have the MCIT disbanded and get a new team to inquire so that the truth can prevail."

Mr Teeluckdharry echoed his counterpart's sentiments.

"We will ask the authorities to re-open this inquiry because the real culprit is still not caught," he said.

Treebhoowoon, 32, from Plaine de Roches, worked as a room attendant at Legends while Moneea, 43, from Petit Raffray, was his floor supervisor.

They were arrested at the hotel the day after the murder.

The high-profile case was originally listed to run nine days but the verdict came in its eighth week.

Noisy jubilation and silent despair

By David Young in Port Louis, Mauritius

The guards could hardly shield their anger, bundling throngs of celebrating supporters aside they escorted their erstwhile prisoners across the courtyard one last time.

The snarling officers burst through the jubilant crowds like a human battering ram, whisking Avinash Treebhoowoon and Sandip Moneea to the back of the Supreme Court building at almost a sprint.

But they could not hold their captives any longer.

Moments later the pair walked back into the paved yard on their own, as free men.

The stony expressions they had worn for the previous eight weeks as they were marched in handcuffs back and forth to court were gone. In their stead, faces of sheer elation as they were swept up in the clamour.

"Justice, justice," the crowds chanted in unison in jubilant scenes not unlike those that would greet the fall of a dictator.

Fireworks were set off at the gates of the old colonial court buildings as some showed they had packed for this result.

Emotion had overwhelmed the defendants 10 minutes earlier inside a tension-wracked Courtroom 5 when the verdicts were read out one by one.

Treebhoowoon threw his hands to the heavens as the jury foreman delivered the words he had prayed for - "Not guilty".

Sections of the public gallery, swollen to proportions not yet witnessed in the always-packed court, erupted in response, as the former hotel cleaner crumpled and wept in the dock.

Judge Prithviraj Fecknah called for order before the jurors' representative could reveal the second verdict.

"Not guilty."

Moneea also broke down. He turned to his co-accused and they embraced, as the relatives of both men did likewise in the packed benches to their right.

The only row that remained seated was the one where John McAreavey and his family witnessed the outcome they had feared.

The widower, his face ashen, dropped his head as the result of the jurors' deliberations reverberated.

His sister Claire, father Brendan and brother-in-law Mark Harte looked just as devastated.

Theirs, it seemed, was the only part of the chaotic court that remained quiet.

It was clear they had no intention of lingering in this febrile atmosphere. With solemn dignity, they rose and walked at pace out of the courtroom.

The two experienced Police Service of Northern Ireland detectives who had sat by their side through large parts of the case were never more needed as the family tried to navigate a path out and away. The black skies that greeted them outside surely reflected their thoughts.

Proceedings inside had still not run their course.

After the verdicts Judge Fecknah addressed the weeping defendants in their native Creole.

"You were charged with the offence of murder," he said.

"You were tried by the jury, you were found to be not guilty for the offence of murder. You are free."

The judge had thanked everyone involved with the case before the jury had retired. As the case formally concluded he expressed his appreciation to the lawyers once again.

"It's been a long and a very taxing trial," he acknowledged.

Chief prosecutor Mehdi Manrakhan had paced the court as the verdicts approached, his face taut with apprehension.

In his final remarks to the court he cut the pose of an utterly deflated man.

"I conducted this trial to the best of my ability," he said, almost apologetically, as his boss, Director of Public Prosecutions Satyajit Boolell, looked on from an extra seat which had been provided for him on the last day.

"The decision of the jury is final and I have to accept that decision in this case."

Treebhoowoon's lawyer, Sanjeev Teeluckdharry, as is his wont, suggested divine intervention.

"Vox populi, vox Dei," he declared, employing Latin to insist the voice of the people was the voice of God.

Outside, having been carried shoulder high, he again reached for a religious metaphor.

"I was confident that the tribunal of the people, the jurors, would reach the correct decision," he said.

"In my closing speech, I said after eight weeks of legal pilgrimage they have been able to reach the wuthering heights.

"They have been able to reach the mountain top. From there there was no possibility of them failing to come to a verdict of not guilty."

Moneea's wife Reka, his most vocal supporter throughout the trial, said she would light a candle in Port Louis's Catholic cathedral for Mrs McAreavey.

"I will continue to pray for Michaela," she said.

"Michaela may your soul rest in peace and the true culprit will be behind the cell."

But her husband's lawyer, the charismatic former politician Rama Valayden, cursed the police for not having caught the real offender in the first instance.

"If the police had not done their job in a sloppy way we would have found the real assailant," he said.

Around 250 people had crammed into the claustrophobic court as the verdicts were announced just after 6pm.

Bursting outside they made the noise of 10 times that number.

Five minutes ahead of them had walked Mr McAreavey and his family - in silent despair.

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