Verdict prompts questions onpolice’s handling of murder probe

The verdict in the Michaela McAreavey murder case will inevitably prompt serious questions for Mauritian police over their handling of the investigation.

Verdict prompts questions onpolice’s handling of murder probe

While allegations of police brutality against one of the accused were a consistent theme through the eight weeks of the trial, many other aspects of officers’ conduct were also put under the spotlight.

None more so than the treatment of widower John McAreavey in the hours after the crime.

The bereaved husband was arrested, handcuffed and left alone in a police station for five hours.

Avinash Treebhoowon, one of the accused, made his first official complaint of ill-treatment at a court appearance two days after the murder.

He would later allege a confession statement signed by him the following day was extracted by violent means.

His allegations against individual officers were repeated again and again throughout the case by Sanjeev Teeluckdharry, his lawyer and by the defendant himself when he went into the witness box.

In summary, he alleged he was subject to numerous beatings, grabbed in the groin, whipped on the soles of his feet with a pipe, hit on the head with a plastic bottle and stripped naked and held down on a table while his head was plunged into a bucket of water.

At one stage he vomited blood, he claimed.

The torture was not just physical, according to the accused. Detectives also allegedly threatened to lock up and beat his parents and, bizarrely, apparently told him they were going to send his wife to Ireland to live with Mrs McAreavey’s widower.

His chief tormentors, the accused claimed, were the officers of the police’s major crime investigation team (MCIT). Defence lawyer Rama Valayden memorably claimed MCIT stood for: “My confession is true.”

Mr Treebhoowon said much of the alleged violence was meted out in the team’s headquarters in Port Louis.

Each claim was rejected by the MCIT personnel when they gave evidence.

The head of the MCIT, assistant chief commissioner Yoosoof Soopun, was also forced to deny claims he threatened to kill the suspect with a revolver he kept concealed in his sock.

Chief prosecutor Mehdi Manrakhan challenged Mr Treebhoowon to explain why doctors who examined him during this period did not find any external signs of injury.

Mr Manrakhan put it to the defendant: “I tell you, you never got beaten, you lied.”

“No, I got beaten,” he replied firmly.

Mr Valayden, representing defendant Sandip Mooneea, shocked the jury as he attempted to demonstrate how hard it was to leave a lasting mark with a slap by striking himself hard on both cheeks.

The nine jurors looked taken aback, especially when the lawyer urged them to do the same.

In a startling revelation during his opening address, Mr Valayden then claimed he had got one of his legal team to subject him to another form of brutality alleged by Mr Treebhoowon — whipping on the feet with a plastic pipe.

“I asked the big guy to do it on me,” he said pointing at a rather well-set junior counsel sitting behind him. “But you can try it too.” Mr Soopun also had to explain the conduct of officers when Mr McAreavey outlined how he was apparently treated by police.

He said the decision to detain the widower was a wrong one, but he blamed the Legends hotel, insisting staff withheld room entry records that would have immediately eliminated him from inquiries.

However, he offered no explanation for the alleged conduct of his officers during Mr McAreavey’s ordeal, in particular the one who apparently asked him why he was crying.

“You’re young, you’ll get another wife,” he allegedly said.

Aside from the incendiary claims of brutalising Mr Treebhoowon and “insensitivity” toward Mr Mc-Areavey, other allegations were levelled over the basic competence of the investigation and the officers who carried it out.

The testimony of successive policemen was seized upon by lawyers as evidence of a mismanaged police probe.

Police problems

* THE FINGERPRINTS

Defence lawyer Rama Valayden continually pressed officers on four fingerprints found at the scene that did not belong to the accused or the McAreaveys.

One was found on a pair of sunglasses found under the sink of the bathroom, two on the door leading to the corridor, and one on a curtain dividing the bathroom from the bedroom.

Assistant Police Commissioner Yoosoof Soopun offered a potential explanation — that people had been in the room shortly after the honeymooner was first discovered, including other hotel guests.

The lawyer claimed the failure not to trace the prints may have seen the real killer escape.

* THE PURSE

One print found in the hotel room was not tested for DNA despite claims in Avinash Treebhoowon’s alleged confession that he was rifling through a purse when Michaela McAreavey walked in.

Assistant chief commissioner Yoosoof Soopun, below, said Mr McAreavey told police nothing was taken from the purse so it was returned to him. He explained that it was three days after the murder when the defendant made the alleged claim.

“By that time it was too late, John McAreavey was already at the airport with the coffin of his wife to leave for Ireland,” he said.

* THE DNA RESULTS

Tests carried out on swabs from Mrs McAreavey’s body and other samples from the crime scene found no links to the accused. Mr Soopun told the court this did not prompt him to review the case.

“I was personally satisfied that the two persons, accused number one and accused number two, are directly involved in the murder of the poor deceased,” he insisted.

Mr Valayden ridiculed how the police expressed this so-called satisfaction at a media briefing the day after the tests were received.

* THE STAFF AND RESIDENTS’ STATEMENTS

Police acknowledged they did not take statements from several potential witnesses, including fellow guests at Legends who were staying close to the room where the honeymooner was strangled.

Two medics who attended to Mrs McAreavey after she was found and two shop assistants who had been working close by were also not asked to provide statements.

The most glaring omission, according to the defence, was a German couple who said they had seen something but were apparently not asked to contribute because of the language barrier, a claim police denied. The officer said door-to-door inquiries were made with guests in English, French and Creole.

However, the defence responded by pointing out that as well as Germans, there were also Finnish and Italian speakers staying close to the room.

* THE CRIME SCENE PHOTOS

The defence claimed the police failed to take pictures of a number of potentially relevant items and areas at the crime scene. The photographs that were taken were not appropriate because they were in black and white, lawyers added.

Police photographer Harris Jeewooth told the court he only took the shots he was ordered to capture but he also revealed the case was the first murder investigation he had worked on.

Ravi Rutnah, then lawyer for Mr Treebhoowon, alleged: “There has been catastrophic failure to take photos that may have been significant to this inquiry.”

* THE DETAILS

Among other facets of the investigation criticised by the defence were failures to obtain records of all people leaving and entering the hotel on the day; to dress suspects and officers in anti-contamination suits during reconstructions; and to check if times on the security cameras and electronic room card readers corresponded with real time. Mr Soopun defended the conduct of all his officers. They were all experienced men, he said, and none more so than himself, with 40 years in the police under his belt.

David Young

Mystery couple in CCTV image

A German chef found himself unexpectedly thrust into centre stage at the Michaela McAreavey trial when a controversial CCTV image, pictured, was produced as evidence.

The grainy clip capturing a couple apparently embroiled in a row at the reception of the Legends hotel triggered feverish speculation in Mauritius when defence lawyers claimed it was the Co Tyrone teacher and her husband John.

Captured around 15 minutes after the state claimed she had been murdered, if the guests had been the McAreaveys, the footage could have obliterated the case against the accused.

But after the three-minute clip was played, assistant commissioner of police Yoosoof Soopun calmly informed the defence barrister he was 100% sure it was not the McAreaveys.

He said he had evidence that the couple were actually German holidaymakers Harald Hoyer and Savarese Graziella.

Justice Fecknah later told the jurors the identity of the couple was no longer an issue for their deliberation.

In the end, what the defence believed had the potential to blow the state case out of the water actually fizzled out with hardly a pop.

To read more on the Michaela McAreavey murder trial, click here

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