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Monday 9 December 2019

Law students pile into court to hear trial

David Young

HIGH winds whipping across Port Louis on Sunday night brought a tree crashing down on the grey slate tiles atop the historic court building.

The tangled branches blocking the entrance to criminal court five this morning did little to prevent the now-customary charge up the steps to get a position in the cramped public gallery.

The law lecturers in the city must hardly need to come to work of late because every one of their students appears to have made the court a temporary classroom for the duration of the Michaela McAreavey case.

Some of the more charitable undergraduates may well have wondered if a stray tree limb had struck Constable Hans Rouwin Seevathian on the head, as he was certainly having great difficulty remembering things when he arrived in the witness box.

"Officer I would be very grateful if you don't beat around the bush," Judge Fecknah urged him sternly after the first in a series of recall failures.

Under tough questioning from Avinash Treebhoowoon's lawyer about his involvement with his client in the days after the murder, the constable from the police's major crime team was not giving much away.

The defendant claims he was beaten by police who forced him to confess to Michaela's murder.

"I can't remember," was to become a familiar refrain from Constable Seevathian during cross-examination, as was "I do not recall".

He clammed up entirely when Sanjeev Teeluckdharry asked what he and his colleagues had done in a two-and-a-half-hour period with his client the day after the murder.

Shifting from side to side in the witness box, each one of his thick-set arms outstretched as his hands gripped tight on its wooden frame, he stayed quiet.

Each empty moment without words must have felt like an age in front of the packed and surprisingly hushed courtroom.

Finally the judge intervened.

"Let the record show that the witness remains silent to this question," he said.

In describing the police escorting Treebhoowoon to and from interview suites, jail cells and court rooms in those crucial days, Mr Teeluckdharry chose the word "manhandled".

On at least two occasions he asked: "Which officers manhandled accused number 1?"

The prosecution said nothing until Justice Fecknah stepped in once again.

This term should be avoided, he said firmly.

"We all know English and we all know what manhandling is," he cautioned the lawyer.

Mr Teeluckdharry adopted "handled" as his alternative but it appeared to do little to loosen the cogs in the officer's memory banks.

The lawyer brought his cross-examination to a conclusion for the day with a series of questions about Treebhoowoon's first court appearance in Mapou, two days after the murder.

At the court, the accused made a series of serious allegations against officers, claiming brutality.

Constable Seevathian was with him when he levelled those complaints in court.

Sixteen months on, the officer insisted he could not recall such details.

"It was a complaint against police but I can't remember exactly the wording," he answered Mr Teeluckdharry.

The lawyer continued, asking instead what the nature of the complaint was.

"As far as I know it was a complaint against police," he replied.

The lawyer responded: "For what?"

Again the officer drew a blank.

"I don't remember exactly my lord."

The officer is set to return to the witness box tomorrow.

PA Media

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