Police inquiry was 'crux' of the defence case
INVESTIGATION:WHEN THE Mauritian authorities sift through the embers of the long legal saga that came to an end yesterday, questions are bound to be asked about the police investigation.
Of all the aspects of the case, none was more closely scrutinised in court than this. It was, said defence barrister Sanjeev Teeluckdharry in his closing speech to the jury, the “crux” of his case.
He portrayed the accused men as innocent victims of a “wild hunt for scapegoats” by a police force under pressure to solve one of the most high-profile murders Mauritius had seen. If he succeeded in discrediting the investigation and casting doubt on the testimony of senior officers, then one of the prosecution’s strongest cards – the confession his client, Avinash Treebhoowoon, said he was beaten into signing – would be cast in a new light.
“Let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen,” Mr Teeluckdharry told jurors, “there is no pride in tacking the skins of innocents on the wall.”
Weeks of the trial were spent delving into the evidence of policemen of all ranks, from junior technicians all the way up to an assistant commissioner.
Police technicians and officers from crime scene units were cross-examined for hours and days. It made for uncomfortable viewing at times.
Under aggressive questioning from Mr Teeluckdharry, a young police photographer, Harris Jeewooth, was berated for taking only black-and-white photos at the scene. He had worked in the crime scene unit for just three months, and this was his first murder case.
And so it went on.
A draughtsman had to withdraw a map he presented in court after admitting it was given to him by the hotel. Another officer said he did not wear anti-contamination footwear when he entered the crime scene.
The exchanges grew more heated as we moved up the chain to the major crime investigation team (MCIT), the small, elite unit that led the inquiry.
One officer, Hans Rouwin Seevathian, thought he was on the stand simply to explain that he brought exhibits from one place to another after the killing. But Mr Teeluckdharry fired questions at him for hours. An uneasy, drawn-out standoff ensued, each question from Teeluckdharry batted away with “I can’t remember” or “I can’t recall”. The policeman, his arms folded against his thick-set frame, must have used these phrases 20 times, earning him a stern rebuke from Judge Prithviraj Fecknah.
Mr Teeluckdharry and his counterpart Rama Valayden, representing co-accused Sandip Moneea, returned time and again to perceived failings by police.
The MCIT failed to take statements from a number of guests in the deluxe block where the McAreaveys were staying, including a German couple who said they had information to pass on. They failed to monitor comings and goings from the hotel on the day of the killing, to interview key staff members or to inquire into “premature departures”.