Monday 18 December 2017

Spotlight turns on police after botched probe amid claims of brutality and torture

Cormac McQuinn In Mauritius

WITH the acquittal of the two men accused of this murder, the Mauritian Police Force will find its conduct during the investigation under intense scrutiny.

For much of the eight-week trial, it was as if the Mauritian Police Force was on trial, rather than the men accused of killing Michaela McAreavey.

Allegations of brutality and torture have been levelled at some of the island's most senior police officers.

The investigation turned up absolutely no hard evidence -- no fingerprints or DNA implicating the two accused.

And they treated Michaela's distraught husband John with staggering insensitivity.

An incompetent investigation from start to finish, it has left Michaela's family without any answers, and her killer still free to walk the streets.

Prosecutor Mehdi Manrakhan's argument in court last week that the "police should be congratulated for solving such a heinous murder in record time", looks ridiculous in hindsight.

Defence lawyers slated the investigation during the trial.

Counsel for Sandip Moneea, Rama Valayden -- the country's former attorney general -- declared himself to be "embarrassed" by the police inquiry.

He ridiculed them, saying they could have learnt much from TV detective Columbo.

The Supreme Court trial saw a succession of hapless police officers testifying.

Avinash Treebhoowoon's lawyer, Sanjeev Teeluckdharry, put it aptly when he said that police testimony often amounted to little more than "I can't say", "I don't remember" and "I personally did not do it".

Damage

Even before the end of the trial he called for a new investigation saying: "This inquiry, if you could call it an inquiry at all, is a shambles."

When police arrived at Legends Hotel on Monday, January 10, 2011, they didn't seal off the resort and failed to interview guests staying near the McAreaveys' suite.

Room 1025, where John McAreavey had found Michaela's lifeless body in the bathtub, was cordoned off.

But the court heard how the crime scene was compromised and interfered with on numerous occasions by police officers who didn't seem aware that their actions could damage the investigation.

A police cameraman used black-and-white film instead of colour and another officer who was supposed to draw plans of the room admitted in court that he had passed off architect's plans as his own.

A senior scene of crime officer Sergeant Mohammad Dhonye supervised the taking of fingerprints, but admitted that the police found no matches for any of the prints they found in the room.

He also confirmed in court that the purse that the accused men were said to be stealing from wasn't tested for prints or DNA.

A unit from the supposedly elite Major Crime Investigation Team (MCIT) led by Chief Inspector Luciano Gerard arrived at the hotel that evening and took over the inquiry.

Implicated

Meanwhile, John had been arrested earlier in the day and was brought to a police station.

He was questioned by officers who asked him if he had been arguing with Michaela.

In court, he said: "I could see what he was implying and I abruptly told him 'no, no'."

According to John, one officer asked him: "What are you crying for? You're young, you'll get another wife."

At the station he was handcuffed and left alone for "five to six hours".

Later that night, officers from the MCIT, including Assistant Commissioner Yusef Soopun arrived and were, as John put it, "far more sympathetic".

He was later released, Mr Soopun explained, because the hotel had given them a copy of key card readings from room 1025 showing a staff key accessing the door two minutes before Michaela entered the room.

On Tuesday, January 11, Mr Treebhoowoon, who had cleaned the McAreaveys' room the previous day, and his supervisor, Sandip Moneea, were arrested.

Another hotel worker, Raj Theekoy, was also arrested but later agreed to testify against the other two men in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

Meanwhile, a security officer, Dassen Naraynan was also taken into custody and is facing larceny charges for allegedly providing Mr Moneea with a key for the McAreaveys' room.

He denies the charge but Mr Naraynan falsely implicated a colleague, Seenarain Mungroo, who spent more than a month in jail before being released and is now taking a civil action against the state.

From the beginning of his incarceration Mr Treebhoowoon alleged that assaults by police -- including beatings to the soles of his feet at MCIT headquarters in Port Louis -- began immediately after his arrest.

He says that on the evening of January 12, officers simulated drowning by repeatedly plunging his head into a pail of water until he vomited blood.

And he told the court how he begged for pity when Chief Inspector Luciano Gerard threatened to lock up his parents and send his wife Reshma to Ireland with Michaela's grieving husband John, to replace his murdered bride.

Amateurism

In opening his case Mr Teeluckdharry asked the jury: "Do you want a police force that resorts to brutality to obtain a confession or do you want a police force that uses scientific methods of investigation."

Mr Valayden lambasted the police for "amateurism" and blamed them for the fact Michaela's "true murderer" is still free.

He quipped that MCIT didn't stand for Major Crime Investigation Team but for "My Confession Is True".

He also criticised the investigation saying: "Are we Mauritians so stupid not to be able to carry out tests like we have seen on Colombo for years?"

"We could have solved this so easily", he claimed.

He added: "This is why I am so angry."

Irish Independent

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