Murder accused takes stand in Mauritius


ONE OF the hotel cleaners accused of murdering Michaela McAreavey sobbed in court yesterday after claiming he was tortured by police.

Avinash Treebhoowoon wiped tears from his eyes as he spoke of being arrested and separated from his family on January 11th last year – the day after Ms McAreavey was found strangled in her room at Legends hotel in Mauritius.

The 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 collect biscuits and found them stealing. Both men deny the charges.

Mr Treebhoowoon signed a statement of confession three days after Ms McAreavey’s death, but subsequently insisted the admission was coerced out of him.

In court yesterday he said he was taken to a police station in the town of Piton, where an officer slapped him twice on the face. He claimed he was taken upstairs and police started to take a statement from him while he was crying. He alleged Insp Luciano Gerard, who led the McAreavey inquiry, took a plastic bottle and struck him over the head with it three times.

Mr Treebhoowoon said he asked the officer why he was beating him. “Mr Gerard said ‘I’m not beating you. You will know what a beating is. Talk’,” he said.

The defendant said he was then brought to the office of the Major Crime Investigation Team in the Mauritian capital Port Louis. There, he was placed naked on a kitchen table and whipped on the soles of his feet with a cable. “I shouted out ‘Oh mother’,” he told the court.

Mr Treebhoowoon said the officers ordered him off the table and told him to jump up and down so the “blood does not clot” and cause bruises. “I was crying, I could not stand with the pain,” he said.

He said more officers came into the room and he was placed on a chair, still naked. “They took a towel into the kitchen and covered that on my face so that I could not see,” he claimed. “They beat me, slapped me, punched me – I was in pain. I couldn’t stand it.”

He alleged one officer then slapped him five times on the head, causing him to lose hearing in his left ear. He said that throughout he pleaded innocence.

After being made to take a bath, he said, the head of the unit, assistant commissioner Yoosoof Soopun, approached him. He said he placed his leg on a chair in front of him and revealed a gun in his sock. “He showed me his revolver and told me ‘if you don’t speak the truth, you will be killed by it today’. I told him I was innocent.”

Mr Treebhoowoon’s voice faltered and he began to sob on the stand as he described how he worried about his family on his first night in detention.

Earlier the defendant was questioned by his barrister, Sanjeev Teeluckdharry, about his movements on the day of the killing. He told the court he started cleaning room 1025, where the McAreaveys were staying, at about 2.10pm.

However he claimed he left at 2.35pm – about 10 minutes before the prosecution claims Ms McAreavey was strangled.