Noisy jubilation and silent despair

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

Noisy jubilation and silent despair

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.

Read more: Death in Mauritius: How the story unfolded (Storify)

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