Friday 20 October 2017

Relatives look on as laughter fills the chamber in pantomime trial

Honeymooners: Michaela Harte and John McAreavey had been 'planning their lives together'
Honeymooners: Michaela Harte and John McAreavey had been 'planning their lives together'
Police photographer Sutish Sharma Jeetwooth.
The wife of Avinash Treebhoowoon, his mother Mala and barristers.
Rekha Moneea, wife of Sandip Moneea.
Sandip Moneea.

David Young in Port Louis

A COURT case touching on the death of a young bride was always going to provoke an intense emotional reactions -- but you'd hardly have expected mirth.

Yet laughter -- and plenty of it -- rang around the chamber at Mauritius's Supreme Court yesterday on day two of proceedings at the Michaela McAreavey murder trial.

The jovial response from sections of the public gallery as defence counsel quizzed police witness Sutish Sharma Jeetwooth was as startling as the court's apparent failure to halt it. It was as if they were watching a courtroom drama, not the solemn task of probing a real-life murder.

Challenging questions and faltering replies drew pantomime 'oohs' and 'aahs' from the public gallery.

At one point a member of the public accidentally leant on a light switch, darkening the room. It only drew further laughter.

It was a spectacle which relatives of Michaela McAreavey must have found hard to stomach. Her brother Mark Harte and sister-in-law Claire McAreavey looked straight ahead as the heckles continued.

Her widower John McAreavey was spared the experience -- he was not in court and is not expected to attend the hearings until he is called as a witness.

Many young law students are sitting in on proceedings so youthful exuberance was perhaps to be expected. And the relatives of the accused were hardly going to be on the police's side. But harder to fathom was the court officials' indulgence of them.

Two men not raising a smile were the accused Avinash Treebhoowoon and Sandip Moneea.

Tucked in behind the witness box on seats much lower than the legal benches around them, they seemed incidental bystanders. Most people in court would have to stand up or crane their necks to see their faces.

But those who do keep an eye on the hotel workers accused of strangling Mickey Harte's daughter would see little or no reaction to the colourful proceedings unfolding around them.

Sitting as far apart as their eight-foot bench allows, they appear never to interact or make eye contact.

Instead they sat staring at the exchanges, occasionally raising their handcuffed palms to rub their eyes.

Mr Treebhoowoon has deep-set eyes. He looks younger than his 30 years; yesterday he wore a grey short-sleeved shirt which appeared too big for him, which only added to the sense of callow youth. His wife Reshma is also fresh faced.

The police's custom of bringing him in and out by squeezing along the knees of those seated in one of the public benches allows the couple a chance to exchange glances and briefly touch.

Similarly with his co-accused, Mr Moneea -- despite wearing handcuffs -- clutched his wife Reka's hand as he was ushered past her at lunchtime. On his exit in the afternoon he clasped his hands in prayer as he swept by his relatives.

He is 42 and while his face is clean-shaven it certainly looks more lived in. The grey flecks on his temples contrast with the black hair of Mr Treebhoowoon.

But despite their differences and apparent mutual antipathy, they face the charges together.

Yesterday one solitary police wagon transported both from the high-security La Bastille prison in nearby Phoenix, instead of the separate vehicles on the opening day. Inside the canvas-covered truck there was surely less space between them than in court room five.

Irish Independent

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