Monday 22 January 2018

Michaela murder: Court told police fabricated confession

Avinash Treebhoowon arrives at the Supreme Court in Port Louis, Mauritius on day Nine of the trial. Photo: PA
Avinash Treebhoowon arrives at the Supreme Court in Port Louis, Mauritius on day Nine of the trial. Photo: PA
Sandip Mooneea arrives at the Supreme Court. Photo: PA
Mauritian Police Chief Inspector Luciano Gerard. Photo: PA
Raj Theekoy, room attendant at the Legends Hotel and witness for the prosecution waits outside the Supreme Court. Photo: PA
John McAreavey and wife Michaela McAreavey on their wedding day

Press Association

POLICE fabricated a confession made by one of the two hotel workers accused of murdering Michaela McAreavey in Mauritius and then forced him to sign it, his trial was told.

The senior officer who led the investigation faced allegations he meshed together a non-incriminating statement made by Avinash Treebhoowoon with claims of a suspect-turned-witness before further embellishing the false account.

But chief inspector Luciano Gerard insisted the hotel cleaner had voluntarily signed his own version of events on January 13 last year - three days after the crime.

Treebhoowoon's lawyer Sanjeev Teeluckdharry claimed CI Gerard had taken parts of a statement made by his client two days earlier and added sections of the account provided by a fellow employee at the Legends Hotel where the murder happened, Raj Theekoy.

"You reproduced the statement accused number one (Treebhoowoon) has given on 11 January at CID in Piton," he said.

"You reproduced the statement and you brought it with a copy of the statement of witness 30 Raj Theekoy and you incorporated part of the allegations in the statement of Raj Theekoy and then you made an enhanced statement which my client was coerced to sign," he said.

Mr Gerard rejected any claim that the statement was obtained inappropriately and highlighted that the accused had agreed to take part in a reconstruction at Legends after signing it.

"He gave his statement voluntarily and he voluntarily participated in the reconstruction exercise where there were many press people present at the hotel," he said.

In the statement, Treebhoowoon claims he and co-accused Sandip Moneea murdered the Co Tyrone teacher when she walked in on them stealing from her room.

Mr Theekoy claimed he heard cries from the room where she was found strangled and then saw Treebhoowoon and Moneea exit.

He was originally charged with conspiracy to murder, but that case has now been dropped and he is set to appear as a prosecution witness on Monday.

Mr Teeluckdharry also claimed that police had breached Treebhoowoon's constitutional right by interrogating him without a lawyer present.

Police say Treebhoowoon first admitted the crime during police interview on January 12 when his counsel was absent.

Mr Gerard of the major crime investigation team (MCIT) confirmed his then barrister - Ravi Rutnah - was not there but insisted he informed the suspect of his right to legal representation.

Mr Teeluckdharry accused the officer of overriding his client's rights.

"You chose to breach the accused's constitutional, fundamental human right to counsel as provided by article 5 of our constitution," he said.

The officer responded: "My lord, before I interviewed him, I informed him of his constitutional rights."

Treebhoowoon signed a full confession statement the next day but Mr Teeluckdharry claimed lawyers were not allowed a private consultation with the suspect during this period.

The defendant insists the confession was beaten out of him.

Mr Rutnah withdrew from the case on Wednesday after accusing CI Gerard of attacking his professional integrity after the officer made a series of claims about him from the witness box.

He said he was late arriving for a meeting with his client on January 12 and also shared food, fried rice, in a convivial atmosphere with investigating police officers.

Today Mr Teeluckdharry claimed Mr Rutnah was in fact subjected to threatening behaviour by CI Gerard and other officers when he arrived on January 13 as his client was about to be interviewed for his confession statement and advised him he had the right to remain silent.

"You and other officers in MCIT became furious and angry," claimed Mr Teeluckdharry.

"You were joined by other officers, you started threatening counsel that you and your men would arrest him for obstructing the police inquiry, you further shouted and started browbeating him."

He added: "All of you threatened and told him that he's not allowed to advise his client at all, he is only allowed to remain seated in the same room and to keep silent throughout the recording."

The chief inspector was also accused of misleading the court after claiming he could not recollect attempting to get a further statement from Treebhoowoon two months later in jail, only for the defendant to refuse because his lawyer was not there.

Mr Gerard admitted he had been there when he was presented with a police log noting the visit.

"I have not been misleading the court," he insisted.

"I have said before I may have been there but I couldn't recollect. If the diary book entry was before me like there (now) I do agree I was there."

Mr Teeluckdharry also challenged the officer to explain why he had seemingly disregarded forensic tests that showed no link to the defendants with the crime scene.

Mr Gerard explained his attitude by highlighting that in his confession Treebhoowoon allegedly claimed that he and Moneea had placed Mrs McAreavey in the bath and them attempted to wash away any traces of their involvement.

The officer was also confronted with claims that his officers threatened to throw Treebhoowoon under a bus if he did not confess.

"My lord this is totally false," he replied.

After the confession statement was signed on January 13, Treebhoowoon met his father in the police station and was recorded as saying: "Forget about your son now. I have made a mistake."

Today Mr Teeluckdharry insisted that his client said 'Don't forget about your son' and the mistake he was referring to was a decision to move out of the family home weeks earlier after an argument.

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