Friday 17 November 2017

Fireworks light sky as friends mob both accused

Cormac McQuinn and David Young

THE heartbroken families of John and Michaela McAreavey were left devastated last night after two men were cleared of murdering the young honeymooner in Mauritius.

Sandip Moneea and Avinash Treebhoowoon were mobbed by relatives and supporters in chaotic scenes both inside and outside the Supreme Court in Port Louis -- sparked by their unanimous not guilty verdicts.

Fireworks were let off and chants of "justice, justice" rang out in the packed courtyard as the two former hotel workers emerged, followed soon after by their triumphant barristers carried shoulder high.

But the celebrations were in stark contrast to the desolation felt by John McAreavey.

He was not there to witness the loud and boisterous aftermath because he quickly walked out of court with family members as soon as the verdicts were read out.

And a short time later, the Harte and McAreavey families issued a brief statement, conveying their bitter disappointment.

"After waiting 18 months in search of justice for Michaela and following the endurance of seven harrowing weeks of this trial, there are no words which can describe the sense of devastation and desolation now felt by both families," the statement read.

The families are expected to issue a more detailed statement later today.

Outside court Mr Treebhoowoon embraced his crying wife Reshma.

"My wife and I are very happy," he said.

He also expressed sympathy for the McAreaveys and Hartes.

"I am so sad about the lady," he said.

"But I did not do this, I did not kill this lady. I am sure by God."

Mr Moneea wept as he hugged his lawyer Rama Valayden.

"I am so happy to be back with my family," he said.

"These past 18 months have been very, very hard."

He credited Mr Valayden, Mauritius's former attorney general, for delivering him from his nightmare.

"The lord Rama has come to save me," he shouted.

Amid the celebrations, lawyers Sanjeev Teeluckdharry and Mr Valayden launched a scathing attack on the Mauritian police team that had extracted a so-called confession from Mr Treebhoowoon and demanded a fresh probe into the crime.

Whipped

The nine jurors took just over two hours to find both men not guilty of murdering the daughter of Tyrone football manager Mickey Harte in the island's luxury Legends hotel in January 2011.

The 27-year-old teacher was found dead in the bathtub of her deluxe room shortly after lunching with her husband at a poolside restaurant.

Both defendants worked at the hotel at the time.

Following a four-hour address by judge Prithviraj Fecknah, the jury retired to consider their verdict.

The defence lawyers had insisted the confession signed by Mr Treebhoowoon three days after the crime was a fabrication that had been extracted by police brutality.

The Legends room cleaner claimed he had been beaten repeatedly, whipped on the soles of his feet, grabbed in the groin and been stripped naked before his head was plunged into water so many times he vomited blood.

Mr Valayden compared the case to past miscarriages of justice involving Irish people.

"This is what happens when we rush to find justice, like it was in the Birmingham Six, like it was in the Guilford Four," he said.

"Wherever in the world, when we rush to try to find justice we always fail."

He claimed the Mauritian police's major crime investigation team (MCIT) ignored vital evidence that would have identified the real killer in their haste to find someone to blame.

The lawyer demanded the MCIT be disbanded and a new unit take on a fresh investigation.

"My message to the McAreavey family is: don't despair," he said.

"We will find the real guilty persons and I can promise to the Irish nation that I as Rama Valayden, and my friend Mr Sanjeev (Teeluckdharry) will join me, we will continue our effort in order to find the guilty person."

As he had done during the trial, he highlighted that four finger prints belonging to neither the two accused or the McAreaveys were found in the room where the honeymooner was strangled.

He also noted that unknown DNA traces had been recovered on her body.

Mr Teeluckdharry echoed his counterpart's sentiments.

"We will ask the authorities to re-open this inquiry because the real culprit is still not caught," he said.

Mr Treebhoowoon (32) and his supervisor Mr Moneea (43) were arrested at the hotel the day after the murder.

The high-profile case was originally listed to run nine days but the verdict came in its eighth week.

Irish Independent

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