Defence lawyer for Avinash Treebhoowoon, Ravi Rutnah, leaned in and spoke firmly into his client’s ear as the camera lenses and microphones jostled for space outside the Mauritius Supreme Court.
“Justice has prevailed,” he prompted, and Treebhoowoon’s face lit up. “Justice has prevailed,” he repeated, and was swiftly bustled away by his defence team.
He would travel home now, back to the comfort of his house and the young life waiting for him. The night that lay ahead of him was in stark contrast to that of John McAreavey. As the Irish people began to process what had just happened, one thing seemed crystal clear: justice had not prevailed.
Two days later in a prominent Irish newspaper, a portrait of Treebhoowoon and his co-accused Sandip Moneea would appear, each man beaming with his arm around his wife. The pictures bore a striking resemblance to the now-infamous image of John and Michaela McAreavey, days before they left for their honeymoon, smiling outside St. Malachy’s Church, Tyrone. McAreavey, Treebhoowoon and Moneea evidently all loved their wives, but there was an odd one out – John no longer had his.
The number of Irish people travelling to Mauritius dropped by 750 in 2011, a trend which owes no small debt to the tragedy with which this island has now become synonymous. Before the death of Michaela McAreavey, there were many Irish people who had never heard of Mauritius, and most still struggle to locate it on a map. However, this island has now gained a dubious place in Irish history, a name which will forever ring with memories of Michaela’s beaming face. A spot on Reeling in the Years beckons.
While John McAreavey and his family returned to Mauritius to find justice, the motives of the Irish people for following the case so closely is less clear. Vincent Browne was attacked on his nightly news programme when he complained about the amount of coverage the trial was receiving, whining that murders in Ireland receive no such amount of publicity. His boorish insensitivity was quickly shot down, and rightly so, but his complaints raise an interesting point: why were we following this case? Did we want to see justice? Or did we want to see the two defendants go to jail for life, full stop? As it happened, we saw neither.
To any observer who kept an eye on the trial (and the farcical pantomimes which played out day after day in the highest court in the Mauritian legal system), it will seem plain that the nine-person jury did not decide that the two accused were innocent. It found that there was nowhere near enough evidence to convict them.
In reality, it seems that the Mauritian legal system does not fare well under the piercing spotlight of the international media. In a country where 85 per cent of convictions are secured through confessions, police forces and legal teams alike are certainly not used to the rigorous and stern analysis of foreign media. This was personified during the days of the trial, where the Mauritian system was well and truly laid bare for all to see. Commentators were agape as police admitted they hadn’t analysed four sets of fingerprints found at the scene, they had arrested a distraught John McAreavey and told him “he’d find another wife”, key witnesses were forgotten, the crime-scene was trampled by “investigating” officers, on and on it went.
Despicable tactics were employed by defence lawyers to smear the McAreavey’s relationship, and a German couple was falsely identified as the couple on hotel CCTV footage. Was this for real? What sort of people were we dealing with? Savages?
It’s a telling fact that the trial was originally set for a nine-day duration – surely a sign that the authorities had intended to get this case closed as soon as possible. Such quick-fire trials, we can assume, are relatively commonplace in Mauritius, where a dubious police-force can extract confessions, and then leave the paperwork until later on. Not in this case.
To say the two men got away with it is to speculate wildly: we simply don’t know who did this, and the waters are so muddied at this stage, it’s unlikely we ever will know.
For many Irish people, however, they feel they do know. For many, these two men are obviously guilty, and have got away with the murder of a beautiful woman at the start of her brand new life. A friend of mine was recently accosted on Twitter for suggesting that the jury had done a good job. The attack read: “ I don’t have answers&neither do u. Michealas murderer is getting away scott free, don’t u think there’s something odd about that? [sic]” According to this tweeter, the jury’s considered opinion just wasn’t good enough. Or maybe it didn’t contain enough xoxos.
In plain terms, the Irish people want blood, and it’s beginning to matter less and less who that blood belongs to. The two defendants looked guilty…damn them they got away with it! Such an assumption is plain stupidity, as it betrays an arrogance on the part of the person who thinks they are party to more reliable information than the jury at the trial. As Brenda Power said earlier this week: “The jury were the only people who did their job right.”
We live in a civilised society where a court of law must be convinced beyond reasonable doubt that the person is guilty. Any reasonable person looking at this case would have more than a little doubt. In fact, they would be seriously doubtful.
This lack of doubt in some minds however, begins to give way to a much more sinister side of the Irish mentality.
Over the last few days, in personal experience, I’ve heard Irish people refer to the Mauritians as “animals”, “in-breds”, “savages”, and “niggers”. It is a sad predictability that these terms can be dragged into an argument which is essentially about the search for justice, and the lack thereof granted to John McAreavey.
Do the Mauritians have a flawed legal system? Yes. So do we, if we remind ourselves of the fact that Seanie Fitzpatrick still awaits charge three years after his bank collapsed.
Do the Mauritians have corrupt officers in their police force? Perhaps, but this does not set them apart from our own.
Did an innocent woman die violently on her honeymoon in Mauritius? Yes, it happens here too.
A recent frenzy of anti-Mauritian propaganda only lays bare the fact that many of us Irish simply haven’t grown up yet. Boycott Mauritius? The mind boggles.
Of course the system is flawed, and to an extent much greater than our own. The suffering, and continued suffering, of the McAreavey family at the hands of the Mauritian authorities (and press) is nothing short of a scandal.
But the minute you call someone an “in-bred”, you lose the argument. This is not an isolated occurance: in my mind, this plays a part in virtually everyone’s negative attitude towards the two defendants. I admit that I become frustrated when listening to the interviews and bulletins, and often sourly wished that these people just spoke plain English. I’ve also admittedly sniggered at the names of some key players (Yoosoof Soopun anyone?).
But really, to have to point out that the Mauritian people’s skin-colour or nationality does not determine the quality of their legal system, is a tiresome and infuriating exercise. It’s an ugly task.
It’s an exercise in reminding how stupid some people really are. And worst of all, it doesn’t deliver justice.