THE LAST WITNESS for the prosecution in the Michaela McAreavey murder trial took the stand at a Mauritius court today.
Assistant Police Commissioner Yousoof Soopun was cross-examined by the defence team for the last time but prior to that testimony, defence lawyers for the accused announced that they will not press the issue of the identity of a couple seen on CCTV footage from the day Michaela was murdered last January.
Last week, defence counsel had filed a motion for the court to rule on the debate surrounding the identity of a couple caught on camera at the Legends hotel reception on 10 January 2011 – the day the 27-year-old Tyrone teacher was murdered in her honeymoon hotel room. During his initial testimony, Soopun argued that it was a German couple in the recordings, not the victim and her husband John.
Over the weekend, a German chef told RTÉ News that he was the man in the footage and the woman was his wife. However, the lawyers for the defence said they would not issue a statement that the couple seen was not the McAreaveys “because of the poor quality of video recordings”.
As the cross-examination of Soopun continued, his testimony was marked by statements showing his lack of knowledge about various details of the enquiry.
As supervising officer, he defended the line taken by his officers to exclude any other possible persons than Avinash Treebhoowon and Sandeep Moonea, who have been charged with murder. Both men, who are former employees of the Legends hotel where the McAreaveys were spending the second part of their honeymoon, have pleaded not guilty.
When asked if he or his officers had checked the door time with real time during investigations, Soopun responded, “I am not aware.” He did acknowledge that timings of these events were crucial for the investigation but did not order officers to check for the discrepancies in the various room readings.
The witness was also asked about a report of fingerprints taken in room 1025. As head of the Major Crimes Investigation Team (MCIT), Soopun said he was satisfied with the arrests that had been made and, therefore, did not try to find to whom the prints belonged.
He added that he was “not aware” who had picked up the sunglasses of the victim or that they were found behind the basin.
The witness explained that the provisional charge which had been lodged against Seenarain Mungroo was scratched because Deassen Narayenen, the security guard, had asked police to correct his statement the day after his deposition. He then exempted Mungroo from any involvement and only implicated Moonea in the case.
Commenting on Michaela’s last movements, Soopun said that the time she was last seen in the Banian restaurant was obtained from other tourists who were there. However, when pressed further on this point, he recognised that this information was given to him by Mr Lolive, the restaurant supervisor.
The witness reiterated that his team had received no information from the hotel management about the identity and movements of the tourists who were staying at the hotel.
Soopun disputed claims that the investigation had been carried out poorly.
Soopun was also re-examined by the prosecution counsel. He filed in-court records from the police station to support his statements that he had no gun on his person during interrogations on 11 January 2011. He had previously denied slapping the accused, Treebhoowon, and showing him a gun during his questioning.
The MCIT holds no weapons on its premises, he added. The detectives have to return the arms to the armory of the police. However, during his cross-examination, the high-ranking police officer said that his men had taken possession of revolvers from the central armory of the police on that day.
Members of the jury, the judge Prithviraj Fekna and counsel for both parties will visit the Legends hotel tomorrow. This follows a request by the defence who believe it is important to allow the jury to clearly see the structure of the hotel.
The jury will visit the main entrance, golf course, reception, le Barachois, Le Banyan restaurant and surrounding rooms present in the block ‘De Luxe’ where room 1025 is situated.
Separately, the judge said he would not sue a website or charge it with contempt of court for publishing CCTV footage before it was produced in court. However, a severe warning was issued.
The trial resumes tomorrow afternoon with the calling of the first defence witness.