Judge bans mobile phones from McAreavey hearing
THE POLICE men keeping a watchful eye on court did not appear wholly prepared for their investigative powers to be put to the test.
But they had little option other than to switch to full detective mode when Justice Prithviraj Fecknah's bete noire struck again.
Anyone who had watched him grow more and more infuriated at mobile phone infractions as the Michaela McAreavey trial has progressed, held their breath when the tell-tale buzz of interference crackled through the court speakers shortly before 11.40am.
"Shall we wait for the person to answer his phone because we're at his beck and call now," said the judge, glaring at the public gallery in Port Louis's Supreme Court.
"Allow the person whose phone has just rung to answer the call."
The court fell quiet as Justice Fecknah waited...and waited.
The only sound was that annoying buzz.
The culprit was no doubt thanking his or her lucky stars their phone was on silent and not readily traceable.
Finally the judge switched off his own temporary silent mode.
"I will ask police officers to lock that door," he commanded, as murmurs of concern rippled around the room.
"No-one is to leave this court."
He then summoned the officers to the front and ordered that a search of everyone in court room 5 be conducted forthwith.
The same policemen had been given a right judicial dressing down yesterday when they allowed a potential offender to escape out the door just as the judge was poised to launch a similar probe.
Justice Fecknah had demanded the pursuit of the fleeing suspect and their failure to catch the mysterious early leaver did not go down well.
"Those doors don't open," he reiterated firmly today.
"I want this person identified."
With that the judge adjourned proceedings and strode to his quarters to await the conclusion of the police inquiries.
Mrs McAreavey's widower John and brother Mark Harte leaned forward on the bench in front of them, appearing frustrated at the latest hold up in the case.
Behind them, the officers seemed a tad perplexed as to what to do next.
A few members of the public, confident of their innocence, thrust their mobiles in the air, awaiting vindication.
Soon realising that anyone could have discreetly turned their phones off before being searched, the police decided to ramp up their response.
Records of incoming calls and texts were to be checked.
But the three middle-aged policeman charged with this task did not really come across as a crack team of technology experts.
After a full 30 minutes of fruitless investigations, the judge marched back into court with an announcement.
All phones, whether on or off, were now being banned.
Anyone found with one inside court would be held in contempt.
"I am sorry to have to take this action but there are some people who don't seem to understand we are doing some serious business here," he said.
"We can't continue to work with these disturbances."
Anyone not talking him seriously, certainly tuned in when he revealed the potential punishment.
"The sentence for contempt can go up to seven years in jail and I intend to apply that sentence," he said.
A shocked court rose for lunch; those with phones hastily thinking where to leave them on their return.
After the break the judge returned, his mood seemingly mellowed.
"I apologise for raising my voice," he said, explaining that his patience had been pushed.
His clarification that the punishment for "wilfully interrupting court" was seven days, not years in jail was met with a degree of relief.
But it would still be a foolhardy individual who packed their mobile when the trial resumes on Monday.