Amid scenes of jubilation, two workers at a luxury hotel were today acquitted of the murder of a Northern Ireland woman killed while on honeymoon on the holiday island of Mauritius.
Loud cheering broke out in court after a jury took just two hours to bring in not guilty verdicts on two locals, who were accused of strangling Michaela McAreavey in her room at Legends hotel in January last year.
The verdicts were unanimous on the two men, who both broke down in tears in the dock as their supporters jumped to their feet in celebration.
Members of the McAreavey family walked straight out of court after the verdicts were announced.
They later issued a statement saying: “Following the endurance of seven harrowing weeks of this trial there are no words which can describe the sense of devastation and desolation.”
Meanwhile, defence lawyers were carried down the court stairs on the shoulders of supporters. Up to 300 supporters of the accused men mingled in chaotic scenes outside the courthouse building, whooping and cheering.
The defendants, Avinash Treebhoowoon, 30, and 42-year-old Sandip Moneea, said they were relieved but felt sorry for the McAreavey family, saying the killers were still at large.
Mrs McAreavey, a 27-year-old teacher, was the daughter of Gaelic football manager Mickey Harte, a household name in Ireland as one of the country’s leading sporting personalities. The trial attracted international attention.
Proceedings during the seven-week trial were marked by frequent disruptions, occasional noisy merriment from supporters of the accused, and by political references. Members of the McAreavey family who attended the trial were upset by its conduct and appealed for order.
Defence counsel attacked the performance of investigating police, describing them as “like Mickey Mouse - beyond stupid”.
One defence lawyer declared he was a Sinn Fein supporter with a great love for the Irish nation, which he said had suffered “a dark era of police brutality, extremism and miscarriages of justice”. He added: “I love that nation for the struggle against British colonialism.”
He appealed to the jury to “provide the truth to the people of Ireland and to Mrs McAreavey’s family” by finding the defendants innocent.
In an alleged confession, Treebhoowoon was said to have admitted he had been “caught red-handed” by Mrs McAreavey. But in court, he maintained his statement had been extracted from him by torture. He claimed police had beaten him up and plunged his head into a bucket of water.
The prosecution case was that the the two men strangled Michaela McAreavey when she unexpectedly returned to her room to fetch biscuits, interrupting them as they searched the room for valuables.
A short time later her body was found in a bathtub by her husband John McAreavey, who had followed her up to their room from a poolside restaurant. In emotional testimony he told of finding his wife and making frantic efforts to revive her.
He said he had been handcuffed by police and left alone in a room for five or six hours. He was first asked whether he had had an argument with his wife, but said officers had later been far more sympathetic towards him.
He described the day his wife died as “the day my life was ended.” He and other relatives remained in Mauritius during the trial.
Prosecuting counsel said that several “grotesque theories” had been put forward by the defence but added: “All the theories were short-lived and quickly abandoned one after the other.”