Case prompts questions about police

 

The verdict in the Michaela McAreavey case will prompt serious questions for Mauritian police over their handling of the murder investigation.

While allegations of police brutality against one of the accused were a consistent theme through the eight weeks of the trial, many other aspects of officers’ conduct were put under the spotlight.

None more so than the treatment of John McAreavey in the hours after the death of his wife, with the bereaved man arrested, handcuffed and left alone in a police station for five hours.

Defendant Avinash Treebhoowoon made his first official complaint of ill-treatment at a court appearance two days after the murder. He would later allege that a confession statement signed by him the following day was extracted by violent means.

His claims against individual officers were repeated again and again throughout the case by his lawyer Sanjeev Teeluckdharry and then by the defendant himself when he went into the witness box.

In summary he alleged he was subject to numerous beatings, grabbed in the groin, whipped on the soles of his feet with a pipe, hit on the head with a plastic bottle and stripped naked and held down on a table while his head was plunged into water.

The torture was not just physical, according to the accused. Detectives also allegedly threatened to lock up and beat his parents and, bizarrely, apparently told him they were going to send his wife to Ireland to live with Mr McAreavey.

His chief tormentors, the accused claimed, were the officers of the police’s major crime investigation team (MCIT).

Defence lawyer Rama Valayden memorably claimed MCIT stood for “my confession is true”.

The head of the MCIT, assistant chief commissioner Yoosoof Soopun, was forced to deny claims he threatened to kill the suspect with a revolver he kept concealed in his sock.

Chief prosecutor Mehdi Manrakhan challenged Mr Treebhoowoon to explain why doctors who examined him during this period did not find any external signs of injury.

Mr Manrakhan put it to the defendant: “I tell you, you never got beaten, you lied.” “No, I got beaten,” he replied firmly.

Mr Teeluckdharry said it would be naive to think police would not know of torture techniques that would leave no marks or traces.

Mr Soopun also had to explain the conduct of officers when Mr McAreavey outlined how he was apparently treated by police.

He said the decision to detain the widower was a wrong one, but he blamed the Legends hotel, insisting that staff withheld room entry records that would have immediately eliminated him from inquiries.

But he offered no explanation for the alleged conduct of his officers during Mr McAreavey’s ordeal, in particular the one who apparently asked him why he was crying. “You’re young, you’ll get another wife,” he allegedly said.

Aside from the incendiary claims of brutalising Mr Treebhoowoon and what Mr McAreavey described as “insensitivity” toward him, other allegations were levelled over the basic competence of the investigation and the officers who carried it out.

The testimony of successive policemen on the stand was seized upon by defence lawyers as evidence of a mismanaged and unprofessional probe.

Contentious issues included:

- Fingerprints: Mr Valayden continually pressed officers on four fingerprints found at the scene that did not belong to the accused or the McAreaveys.

- A purse: One found in the hotel room was not tested for DNA despite claims in Mr Treebhoowoon’s alleged confession he was rifling through a purse when Mrs McAreavey walked in.

- DNA results: Tests carried out on swabs from Mrs McAreavey’s body and other samples from the crime scene found no links to the accused. Mr Soopun told the court this did not prompt him to review the case.

- Scene of crime photos: The defence claimed the police failed to take pictures of a number of potentially relevant items and areas at the crime scene.

- Statements of staff and residents: Police acknowledged they did not take statements from a number of potential witnesses, including fellow guests at Legends who were staying close to the room where the honeymooner was strangled.

The most glaring omission, according to the defence, was a German couple who indicated they had seen something but were apparently not asked to contribute because of the language barrier, a claim police denied.

Among other facets of the investigation criticised by the defence were failures to obtain records of all people leaving and entering the hotel on the day; to dress suspects and officers in anti-contamination suits during reconstructions at Legends; and to check whether times on the security cameras and electronic room card readers corresponded with real time.

In response to a number of the claims, Mr Soopun alleged that police had been unable to access certain information because the hotel had not been forthcoming.

“We didn’t have the co-operation of the hotel management, it’s unfortunate to have to tell this in court here,” he said.

The police were not only criticised for what they did at the time of the murder, but also how they acted in the witness box under cross examination.

Mr Teeluckdharry claimed: “The prosecution evidence ... can be summarised as follows, ‘I can’t say, I don’t remember, I personally did not do it, I was only acting under instructions, I have to check the records’.”

Mr Soopun defended the conduct of all his officers throughout the investigation. They were all experienced men, he said, and none more so than himself, with 40 years in the police under his belt.

Mr Teeluckdharry tried to turn the proud claim against the officer. “Mr Soopun has carried out the investigation in the same manner investigations used to be carried out 40 years ago,” he said.

PA