Two men acquitted of murdering honeymooner Michaela McAreavey in Mauritius have expressed joy and relief as their lawyers insisted the real culprit could still be found.
Sandip Moneea and Avinash Treebhoowoon were mobbed by relatives and supporters in chaotic scenes both in and outside the Supreme Court in Port Louis sparked by their unanimous not guilty verdicts.
Fireworks were let off and chants of “justice, justice” rang out in the packed courtyard as the two former hotel workers emerged, followed soon after by their triumphant barristers carried shoulder high.
Amid the celebrations, lawyers Sanjeev Teeluckdharry and Rama Valayden launched a scathing attack on the Mauritian police team that had extracted a so-called murder confession from Treebhoowoon and demanded a fresh probe into the crime.
The tragic newlywed’s widower John was not there to witness the loud and boisterous aftermath of the verdicts, having quickly walked out of court with family members as soon as they were read out.
Afterwards a statement from Mrs McAreavey’s relatives said words could not express their desolation.
The nine jurors took just over two hours to find both men not guilty of murdering the daughter of Tyrone gaelic football manager Mickey Harte in the island’s luxury Legends hotel last January.
The 27-year-old teacher was found dead in the bathtub of her deluxe room shortly after lunching with her husband at a poolside restaurant.
Both defendants worked at the hotel at the time .
Outside court Treebhoowoon embraced his crying wife Reshma.
“My wife and I are very happy,” he said.
He also expressed sympathy for the McAreaveys and Hartes.
“I am so sad about the lady,” he said. “But I did not do this, I did not kill this lady. I am sure by god.”
Moneea wept as he hugged his lawyer Rama Valayden.
“I am so happy to be back with my family,” he said. “These past 18 months have been very, very hard.”
He credited Mr Valayden, Mauritius’s former attorney general, for delivering him from his nightmare.
“The lord Rama has come to save me,” he shouted.
Shortly after the trial ended, the Harte and McAreavey families issued a brief statement conveying their bitter disappointment.
“After waiting eighteen months in search of justice for Michaela and following the endurance of seven harrowing weeks of this trial, there are no words which can describe the sense of devastation and desolation now felt by both families,” the statement read.
The six men and three women of the jury retired to consider their verdicts after a four hour 15 minute address by judge Prithviraj Fecknah, who directed them on the law and relevant issues to consider during deliberations.
The defence lawyers had insisted the confession statement signed by Treebhoowoon three days after the crime was a fabrication that had been extracted by police brutality.
The Legends room cleaner claimed he had been beaten repeatedly, whipped on the soles of his feet, grabbed in the groin and been stripped naked before his head was plunged into water so many times he vomited blood.
Mr Valayden compared the case to past mis-carriages of justice involving Irish people.
“This is what happens when we rush to find justice, like it was in the Birmingham six, like it was in the Guilford four,” he said.
“Wherever in the world, when we rush to try to find justice we always fail.”
He claimed the Mauritian police’s major crime investigation team (MCIT) had ignored vital evidence that would have identified the real killer in their haste to find someone to blame quickly.
The lawyer demanded the MCIT be disbanded and a new unit take on a fresh investigation.
“My message to the McAreavey family is: don’t despair,” he said.
“We will find the real guilty persons and I can promise to the Irish nation that I as Rama Valayden, and my friend Mr Sanjeev (Teeluckdharry) will join me, we will continue our effort in order to find the guilty person.”
As he had done during the trial, he highlighted that four finger prints belonging to neither the two accused or the McAreaveys were found in the room where the honeymooner was strangled.
He also noted that unknown DNA traces had been recovered on her body.
“All our friends in Ireland let me tell them again we promise them we will not leave any stone unturned in order to reopen the inquiry, have the MCIT disbanded and get a new team to inquire so that the truth can prevail.”
Mr Teeluckdharry echoed his counterpart’s sentiments.
“We will ask the authorities to re-open this inquiry because the real culprit is still not caught,” he said.
Treebhoowoon, 32, from Plaine de Roches, worked as a room attendant at Legends while Moneea, 43, from Petit Raffray, was his floor supervisor.
They were arrested at the hotel the day after the murder.
The high-profile case was originally listed to run nine days but the verdict came in its eighth week.