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Accused in Michaela trial breaks down giving evidence

Avinash Treebhoowon took to the witness stand for the first time today and told the court that he had been insulted, threatened and beaten by police officers.

John McAreavey with his sister Claire (right) and Mark Harte (second right), brother of Michaela, pictured at the court in Mauritius today
John McAreavey with his sister Claire (right) and Mark Harte (second right), brother of Michaela, pictured at the court in Mauritius today
Image: Nicholas Larche/PA Wire

ONE OF THE two men accused of the murder of Michaela McAreavey broke down in the witness stand today as he told the court that he had been beaten by police officers following the discovery of her body.

Avinash Treebhoowon took to the witness stand for the first time today to give his version of the events of 10 and 11 January last year. He cried as he spoke about how the police officers insulted, threatened and beat him at a barracks in Port-Louis.

Questioned by his lawyer, Sanjeev Teeluckdharry, the former hotel room attendant said that three officers had come to speak to him at Legends Hotel on 11 January where he was on duty. Treebhoowon said the threats from the officers started in the car park of the hotel when a female officer told him that if he did not speak that he “would undergo a shock that he could never imagine”.

Treebhoowon said he told the police he knew nothing about what happened in room 1025 where Michaela McAreavey was found dead and that he was innocent.

The police brought him to a police station. He was told that as there was no room available in the nearest station at Grand-Gaube he was instead brought to Piton, roughly 20 minutes away. At the station, one officer slapped him on his left cheek, Treebhoowon said.

He told the court that when he started weeping and said it was the first time in his life that he had been beaten, another officer took a plastic bottle and hit him on his head. Another officer slapped him again on the same cheek.

Treebhowon said that he continued to proclaim his innocence and the officers from the Major Crime Investigation Team decided to bring him to their headquarters in Port-Louis. On the way, Treebhoowon says that the car stopped at one stage and one officer hit him four times in the stomach.  All the way the officers insulted and threatened him, the accused said.

At the headquarters he says he was brought to a kitchen, asked to take off all his clothes and made to lie down on the ceramic tile table. One officer hit him on his heels with a PVC pipe several times, he said. Then he was asked to get down and to jump “so as the blood may not clot in his heels”, he told the court. This was repeated twice.

His face was then wrapped in a towel and he was beaten and kicked, Treebhoowon said. One officer slapped him five times, with one slap hitting his ear badly. He said he was so afraid that he did not say anything though his hearing was affected.

Treebhoowon cried as he told the court how afterwards he was forced to take a shower without any soap or towel and he had to put his clothes back on. He was then transferred to  Pointe aux Canonniers police station in the north of Mauritius.

He did not eat anything that day nor did he have a glass of water.

In court earlier

Earlier today in the courtroom Avinash Treebhowon told the court about what he had been doing the day when 27-year-old Michaela McAreavey was killed. He maintains that he left room 1025 at 2.35pm on the afternoon in question. He said under oath that he had entered the room at 2.10pm and spent about 25 minutes cleaning it. Prior to that, he had spoken with the victim’s husband, John McAreavey at midday while he was working in an adjoining room.

Avinash Treebhowon said that room 1025 had had a DND – Do Not Disturb – sign on the door when he approached it.  ”He [John McAreavey] told me I could come back in 5 minutes. At 1.55pm the DND tag was still there,” said the witness.

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He then went to see his supervisor, Sandip Moneea, who is also on trial for murder, who was nearby at room 1012. “Sandeep took the phone in 1012 and called room 1025. Noticing that no one answered, he told me to go clean the room 1025, but I refused on the grounds that I will not go alone. Sandeep Moneea then told me to inform him if there was a problem,” he added.

Treebhoowon maintains that he was alone when he was cleaning room 1025 but that while he was making the bed, security officer Dassen Narayanen came to the door and exchanged a few words with him. He also asked another attendant to take away a plate and napkin from the room which were soiled.

After he finished the room at 2.35pm according to the room report sheet, he went back to the pantry he shares with Raj Teekoye. He then set out for the boathouse to inflate one wheel of his trolley. On his way, he met Sandeep Moonea and Raj Teekoye to whom he gave a bundle of soiled linen. He was not able to have the wheel inflated, he told the court, as all staff from boathouse were at sea, the head of that department told him. He then rejoined his two colleagues, took back his bundle from Teekoye and all three engaged in a conversation. They were joined by another attendant, Govinden Saminaden. While they were talking, the general manger of the hotel Brice Lunot and bellboy Rajeev Bhujun came running by.

The three men followed the other two on the orders of the general manager to room 1025. There, Avinash Treebhoowon says he saw the body of a woman lying on her back on the ground. Lunot then asked them all to leave except for Sandeep Moonea who phoned for assistance. All three then went to the hotel canteen for tea.

Questioned by his lawyer, Avinash Treebhoowon said the woman in room 1025 was wearing a bikini. He also said that after viewing photographs that were shown to him, the room was in the order he had left it in at 2.35pm.

In a feverish voice, the witness answered questions from his lawyer and was repeatedly interrupted by objections from Principal State Counsel, Mehdi Manrakhan. Judge Fekna Prithviraj has also intervened to ask the two lawyers to calm down.

“I understand that the testimony of the accused is a milestone of the trial, but I would ask the lawyers for both sides to calm down,” he added.

Defence opens case in Michaela trial with focus on alleged torture of suspect >

Full coverage of the trial >

About the author:

Ajai Daby in Mauritius

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