Lawyer was at forced signing of confession, says accused

Fri, Jun 29, 2012, 01:00

A HOTEL cleaner accused of murdering Michaela McAreavey has claimed he and his lawyer looked on in silence as police dictated a false confession for him to sign.

Avinash Treebhoowoon signed a confession statement three days after Ms McAreavey was killed at Legends Hotel in Mauritius in January last year, but later retracted the statement and said he was beaten and tortured into signing it.

Ms McAreavey, a 27-year-old teacher from Co Tyrone, was killed while on honeymoon with her husband John. The prosecution claims she was murdered by Mr Treebhoowoon (31) and his former colleague Sandip Moneea (42) when she returned to her room to get biscuits and found them stealing. Both men deny the charges.

Under cross-examination from prosecution barrister Mehdi Manrakhan yesterday, Mr Treebhoowoon said his lawyer was present when he signed the confession but that both men had been threatened by police.

He said that when his lawyer, Ravi Rutnah, told him he had the right to speak or remain silent, a senior detective, Luciano Gerard, became furious. He said the policeman lifted a chair and motioned as if he was about to throw it at the lawyer. “Gerard said, ‘Hey, you faggot, why are you telling him not to speak?’”

Mr Manrakhan asked whether it was credible that Mr Rutnah, “a lawyer experienced in international human rights”, sat silently as a false confession was dictated by one officer and written down by another. The defendant insisted his account was true.

Mr Treebhoowoon said he had no knowledge of what the confession statement contained, but this was disputed by Mr Manrakhan, who said the document included correct facts the police could not have known and was filled with phrases favoured by Mr Treebhoowoon.

The barrister said the violent struggle with Ms McAreavey outlined in the statement was consistent with the pattern of injuries sustained by the newlywed.

He claimed police were not in possession of the postmortem report at the time the confession was written.

Mr Treebhoowoon was questioned at length about his allegations of police brutality, which include claims that officers plunged his head into a bucket of water until he vomited blood and made him lie naked on a table as they beat his heels with a cable.

In the course of the claimed brutality, he made an official complaint to a magistrate and was sent to a hospital for examination.

Mr Manrakhan asked how could he explain there were “no external injuries” found.

Mr Treebhoowoon said it was because he didn’t take his shirt off during the examination.

Judge Prithviraj Fecknah, counting up the separate claims of abuse, also asked the defendant to account for the apparent anomaly.

“I am telling you, as per what you said, you got 13 slaps in all,” he said. “You want me to believe that after 13 slaps your face was still normal?

Mr Manrakhan said two days later the accused was examined again, this time by a police doctor. “He didn’t see any injuries on your body or your heels,” he said. “I’ll tell you why he couldn’t see anything. Because you never got beaten.”

But Mr Treebhoowoon maintained that he had been repeatedly assaulted. Mr Treebhoowoon has said that he entered room 1025 – the McAreaveys’ room – at 2.10pm, cleaned it and left at 2.35pm. The prosecution argues that Ms McAreavey was killed in the room at about 2.45pm.

Mr Manrakhan queried his insistence that he had not seen a wallet on the table, noting that it was spotted by many people who attended the scene of crime.

“Everyone else saw the wallet,” he said. “No, I didn’t see it,” replied the accused.

Mr Manrakhan put it to Mr Treebhoowoon that the confession statement was true and that he gave it voluntarily. “It’s not true,” he replied. “We have all seen that you are a big liar. You and Sandip Moneea killed that lady,” said the lawyer.

“No. Lies,” answered Mr Treebhoowoon.