Monday 9 December 2019

Chaotic scenes as Michaela murder trial begins

David Young

JOHN McAreavey paused for a moment before entering the small cobbled yard that led to court room 5.

It was almost as if he was steeling himself, not just for the day ahead but for the whole gruelling trial.

The widower of Michaela McAreavey then slowly walked into the storm awaiting him at Mauritius's Supreme Court.

He had not gone five steps before he was enveloped by the onrushing crowd.

Cameras and microphones were thrust at him like pikes by an over-eager local media pack located between him and the open air staircase to the court above.

Local police appeared almost indifferent to the spectacle; they certainly did little to ease his path through the gauntlet in front.

But his calm expression never wavered, his pace never quickened and not an angry word was uttered.

The Co Down accountant, who still wears his gold wedding ring on his left hand, was the essence of dignity. All around there was precious little evidence of it.

His sister Claire, father Brendan and Michaela's brother Mark Harte tried to form a protective bubble around him.

They were helped manfully by two officers from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) who have accompanied the relatives to offer the families support.

But collectively they could do little to quell the chaos.

Similar scenes greeted the defendants moments beforehand.

The irony was the handcuffed Avinash Treebhoowoon and Sandip Moneea had a Mauritian police escort to ease their passage to the stairwell.

But it certainly was not the behind-locked-fences entrance typical in the UK and Ireland. The two accused were paraded through the crowds almost like livestock being brought to market, or boxers to the ring.

No dispensation was afforded to their relatives either, who found themselves jostled and shoved as they attempted to seek shelter from the snapping lenses.

With the main protagonists in court, policemen standing at the foot of the stairs gave the signal that the public could now gain access.

Cue another unseemly free-for-all.

Court room 5 was probably designed to accommodate about 80 people. At one stage in the first hour of the trial's first day there were around 190 crammed inside.

Scores of people stood at the back and around the sides to get a glimpse of proceedings. Even those quick enough up the steps to get a seat at one of the four public leather covered benches were not at much of an advantage - many of the standing overflow simply decided to position themselves in front of them.

The only discernible space in the whole court appeared to be the 5ft gap between the two defendants in the dock.

Each pressed hard against the corner of the same bench, looking like two same-poled magnets repelling the other.

Behind them the glass wall was covered with full-length pink/brown curtains. The occasional gap let in a shard of dazzling sunlight from outside, augmenting the artificial ceiling fittings already illuminating the wood panelled court below.

But if light was not a problem, sound certainly was.

The combination of bad acoustics and an even worse sound system meant initial proceedings were barely audible from any part of the public gallery.

The whirr of the air conditioners merely heightened the difficulty.

The McAreavey and Harte family members sat in the first row but still struggled to make out anything in the early stages.

Eventually additional microphones were sourced and the matter was resolved, but not without the need for a nimble-footed clerk to dash between each lawyer with one of the new mikes as they started to speak.

John McAreavey is listed as a witness in the high profile trial and was therefore not present for the majority of court proceedings.

His relatives will have no doubt told him what may await when his time comes to take the stand.

With the jury selected and other legal matters dispensed with the court rose slightly early.

But there was time for one more unusual sight as the two defendants were shuffled out along one of the public benches with those seated asked to make room to let them through.

The Mauritian justice system may be based in part on the UK model, but there are certainly many differences in court custom.

PA Media

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