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Mauritius court acquits pair of Irish honeymoon murder

A jury in Mauritius acquitted today two hotel workers of the murder of Irish honeymooner Michela McAreavey, the daughter of a leading Irish sports personality.

world Updated: Jul 12, 2012 21:48 IST

A jury in Mauritius acquitted on Thursday two hotel workers of the murder of Irish honeymooner Michela McAreavey, the daughter of a leading Irish sports personality.

The nine-member jury took two hours to decide that Avinash Treebhowoon, 31, and Sandip Mooneea, 42, were not guilty following an eight-week trial, one of the most high profile court cases ever seen on the Indian Ocean island.

"Upon deliberation we have unanimously decided that accused number one (Treebhowoon) is not guilty... we have unanimously decided that accused number two (Mooneea) is not guilty," the lead juror told the court.

McAreavey, 27, a County Tyrone school teacher and the daughter of Tyrone Gaelic football boss Mickey Harte, was strangled in January 2011 and her body dumped in the bathtub of her luxury hotel room.

She was discovered by her husband John McAreavey, who was present in court for every day of the trial, including giving heart-breaking evidence on the horror of realising his new bride was dead.

Members of the Harte and McAreavey families left the court as soon the verdict was read out without making a comment.

Treebhowoon initially confessed to the killing, but then claimed the confession had been beaten out of him while he was in police custody.

"The voice of the people has triumphed," Treebhowoon's lawyer Sanjeev Teeluckdharry told AFP.

Rama Valayden, the lawyer for Mooneea, claimed that police had evidence against others, and that "if they had wanted to find the real culprits they could have done so."

Valayden slammed what he called police brutality, saying "the government needs to act on this form of aggression, the laws need to change, and the investigators need to be investigated."

With tourism making up more than a quarter of the economy of the white-beach and palm-fringed island, the murder of McAreavey has made headlines at home and abroad.

However, Judge Prithviraj Fekna told the jury before they retired to make their decision to ignore the wider implications of the trial, and focus only on evidence presented in court.

"You have been told that this will have an international ramification and will affect the image of Mauritius... this is not your role," Fekna said.

"You must not allow yourself to be influenced by this, you are not politicians, you have to base yourself on what has happened."

Critics say a slapdash approach by police investigators may have jeopardised key forensic evidence.

A British forensic scientist told the court that no traces of Treebhowoon or Mooeena's DNA had been found on the victim's body or in the hotel room.

"A lot has been said on police amateurism and that they could not carry out the inquiry properly," Fekna told the jury before they made their verdict, while noting that "the police is not on trial in the present case."

Mauritius, a volcanic island surrounded by coral reefs and lagoons, is best known for top-end tourism and as a honeymoon destination, with nearly one million tourists a year, employing directly or indirectly around 100,000 people.

First Published: Jul 12, 2012 21:47 IST