Legal teams clash at McAreavey trial

Legal teams clash at McAreavey trial

Attempts to explore the private lives of murdered honeymooner Michaela McAreavey and her husband provoked fierce clashes today at the trial of two men accused of the crime.

A defence lawyer’s bid to question a police officer about a sex guide found in the Mauritius hotel room where the daughter of Tyrone football boss Mickey Harte was strangled was met with fury by the prosecution, with the case adjourned for a period.

Principal state counsel Mehdi Manrakhan reacted angrily when Sanjeev Teeluckdharry, representing accused Avinash Treebhoowoon, asked the officer if the book – The Ultimate Sex Guide – contained material of a violent nature.

“I object in the strongest possible terms,” Mr Manrakhan said as legal colleagues slammed papers on the benches in outrage.

Mr Teeluckdharry earlier insisted the book went to “the crux of the defence’s case”.

“We are trying to unveil the truth,” said the barrister after Mr Manrakhan’s intervention.

Judge Mr Justice Prithviraj Fecknah upheld the objections of the prosecution, telling Mr Teeluckdharry that such questions should not be directed at the witness – police sergeant Govinder Ramasawmy – as he had already told the court he had not examined the book’s contents.

Mrs McAreavey’s brother Mark Harte looked at the floor as her sister-in-law Claire watched the heated exchanges in a packed and humid courtroom in Port Louis.

Her widower John, who has returned to the island for the trial, was unable to attend proceedings as he is due to be called as a prosecution witness.

Legends Hotel employees Treebhoowoon, 30, and Sandip Moneea, 42, deny the premeditated murder of the 27-year-old teacher from Co Tyrone.

Mrs McAreavey was found dead in her hotel room shortly after lunching with her husband by a pool at the hotel last January.

The prosecution claims she returned to her room to fetch biscuits for her tea and caught the accused stealing from her room.

The exchanges on the fourth day of the trial developed after sergeant Ramasawmy told the court he gave the book to Mr McAreavey three days after his wife was killed, along with 12 other possessions from their room in the luxury hotel.

These included a laptop, mobile phones and personal items.

In cross-examination, Mr Teeluckdharry had asked whether an effort had been made by police to examine the contents of the phones and the sites looked at the laptop.

This sparked the first verbal clash with Mr Manrakhan.

Judge Fecknah warned both lawyers he would not tolerate personal exchanges, but tensions increased when Mr Teeluckdharry turned to the sex guide.

Despite sergeant Ramasawmy’s insistence he had not looked inside the book, Mr Teeluckdharry twice asked him to comment on whether it contained extreme material.

After the state’s objections, the judge intervened again. He said the line of questioning was not appropriate for a witness who had not examined the book.

“I can see where you are going with this,” Justice Fecknah told the defence lawyer. “I think you are asking the wrong witness.”

Sergeant Ramasawmy accompanied Mr McAreavey back to room 1025 in the hotel the day before he handed him the possessions, to get the bereaved husband to show police how he found his wife in the bath.

After cross-examination by Mr Teeluckdharry, a lawyer for Moneea, Rama Valayden, pressed the officer on his actions in the days after the murder.

He accused sergeant Ramasawmy of not interviewing a number of employees and guests at Legends who could have assisted the investigation, including a German couple who, the barrister claimed, were not asked to make statements because they could not speak English.

“Officer, you did not do anything in that inquiry. In fact you participated in bungling that inquiry,” Mr Valayden said.

Sergeant Ramasawmy rejected the allegation: “No, my lord.”

Police inspector Sunilduth Nucchedy began giving his evidence to the court before proceedings were closed for the week shortly after 2pm.

The officer described the crime scene photographs taken in the room.

These included pictures of Mrs McAreavey’s body. Mr Nucchedy said bruise and scratch marks were clearly visible on the newlywed’s neck and face.

A jury of six men and three women is hearing the case and almost 50 witnesses are listed to give evidence.

Though most Mauritians speak French Creole as their first tongue, court proceedings are being heard in English.

The case against Treebhoowoon, from Plaine des Roches, and Moneea, from Petit Raffray, was scheduled to last two weeks but is set to go on for much longer, with Judge Fecknah having warned that a “lengthy trial” was ahead.

Mrs McAreavey, from Ballygawley, Co Tyrone, was the only daughter of Mr Harte, the GAA boss who steered his native county to three All-Ireland championships.

The Legends Hotel, which has since been renamed the Lux Hotel, is in the fishing village of Grand Gaube, close to Mauritius’s Grand Bay.

Mrs McAreavey taught religious education and the Irish language at St Patrick’s Academy in Dungannon, Co Tyrone.

Her Requiem Mass was held close to her family home at St Malachy’s chapel in Ballymacilroy – the same church in which she married a fortnight before she was killed.

Then-president Mary McAleese was among dignitaries at a funeral attended by more than 3,000 people, as the newlywed was buried in her wedding dress.

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