Accusation pierces afternoon torpor of the Port Louis courtroom

 

THE DEFENCE barrister had been on his feet for an hour and a half, trying to chip away, one by one, at the credibility of the prosecution witnesses, when a voice rose suddenly from the public gallery.

“Lies,” said John McAreavey, firmly and audibly. Sanjeev Teeluckdharry finished his sentence and didn’t react. Neither did McAreavey’s sister Claire, his father Brendan or his brother-in-law Mark Harte, who were sitting beside him in the front row. They stared straight ahead. About a dozen barristers swung around in their seats; in the torpor that descends over the public gallery by mid-afternoon, it was hard to miss. Everyone seemed to sit up straight.

McAreavey’s outburst came just as Teeluckdharry was about to wrap up. The afternoon had been given over to his opening statement, in which he laid out his case and confirmed his client, Avinash Treebhoowoon, would take the stand.

“Have you ever been wrongly accused of something and have no one to listen to you,” Teeluckdharry asked the jurors. “When you get the opportunity of saying something, would you do it? Accused number one will do that exactly.

“He will tell you how he was wrongly accused. He will tell you how he was tortured relentlessly by unscrupulous police officers who were in indecent haste to obtain a confession.”

Teeluckdharry reminded the court of his client’s claims against police: that he was beaten, that his head was plunged into a bucket of water until he vomited blood, and that he was made jump up and down so his blood wouldn’t clot.

“I have heard his ordeal many times but I am not immune to it. I must tell you, it’s not for the faint-hearted.” At that, McAreavey spoke up.

In his speech to the jury yesterday, Teeluckdharry said McAreavey had become “evasive and defensive” under cross-examination.

The barrister recalled that McAreavey told the court he returned to his and his late wife Michaela’s room on the evening of January 9th, 2011 – the day before the killing – to fetch some biscuits for his wife to have with a cup of tea after dinner. However, the defence produced room keycard data which showed the door to room 1025 did not appear to have been opened by John or Michaela McAreavey around that time.

The following day, a barrister acting for McAreavey said he wanted to correct his evidence: he had returned to the room on the evening of the 8th, not the 9th. The defence said it would object to McAreavey returning to the stand to modify his evidence, and the matter didn’t go any further.

“He [McAreavey] was confronted with the door readings – the date, the time,” Teeluckdharry said yesterday. “When cornered, he could not establish the version of events . . . The next day, through counsel, he wanted to correct his mistakes.” Then he added, slowly: “But some mistakes cannot be corrected, ladies and gentlemen.”

Teeluckdharry homed in on the police officers who ran – and, the defence claims, botched – the investigation. His interpretation of the evidence was caustic. The police photographer was evasive and inexperienced, the mapper tried to pass off the hotel’s own map as his own, and the defence had to “fish for information” from unhelpful officers.

Assistant commissioner Yoosoof Soopun carried out the inquiry “in the same way that investigations used to be carried out 40 years back”.

“The right to a fair trial includes the right to a fair, impartial inquiry . . . Has there been a fair, impartial inquiry or has there been any inquiry at all?” The barrister was encouraged by forensic test results, which showed “there is not an iota, not a shred, not a scintilla” of scientific evidence against either of the accused. “Ladies and gentlemen, I wonder why we are still here.”