Saturday, 14 July 2012
Mauritius - a terrible injustice?
There's something a bit sickening and a bit familiar about the McAreavey judgement. I say 'the McAreavey judgement', although of course it was the judgement on the innocence of the two accused men that got Irish attention, from the Taoiseach on down (or up). Just when it seemed that the death of Michaela McAreavey couldn't get any more appalling than it was, this case and particular its culmination in the whooping joy at the 'not guilty' verdict showed that the ghastly can become even more ghastly.
However, maybe we should face a few uncomfortable facts.
(i) We bring a degree of prejudice to the operation of the Mauritian courts - they're far away, probably a bit primitive, a bit dodgy, unlike our own. Our prejudice is confirmed by the laughter in court, the yells and cheers and shouldering of the defence barrister after the acquittal. But don't forget the release of the Birmingham Six, the Guilford Four - maybe their courts and ours, their reaction and ours aren't totally dissimilar.
(ii) Our feelings of despair at the judgement relate directly to our conviction that the men are guilty. Behind that is our conviction that John McAreavey, Michaela's husband, is the subject of foul smears when his innocence is questioned. Just as the Birmingham Six and the Guilford Four remain, in some people's minds, with a question-mark over their innocence. But in both cases, the truth is we don't know. Most of us, I suspect, welcomed the release of the Birmingham Six and the Guilford Four, and resent the lingering doubts some people harbour about their innocence. But I don't know if those doubts have any foundation. In short, I'm prejudiced in favour of the released Irish prisoners, and I'm prejudiced against the release of the two Mauritian men in the McAreavey case. I'm prejudiced in favour of John McAreavey's total innocence, not because I've studied the case in detail but because I identify with someone, as one commentator put it, from an impeccable pedigree: his uncle is a Catholic bishop, his late wife the daughter of one of Ireland's outstanding people, let along Gaelic football managers. And yet that should, must have nothing to do with it. To judge a person, favourably or unfavourably, on the grounds of the family they come from, is totally wrong. My family could be grand people and I could be a pig; and vice versa. I feel in my gut that John McAreavey is a man totally innocent and one who has known a nightmare at close quarters, not once but twice. But his family background or that of his late wife has nothing to do with it. If I don't want to be judged by how good or bad my brother is, the same should apply to everyone else.
By now you'll have noticed that I'm far from clear in my ideas about this case. On the one hand I find the death of Michaela and the trial eighteen months later ghastly affairs that must have loaded the Harte and the McAreavey families with a terrible burden of pain. On the other hand, I need to watch that I don't assume guilt and innocence without clear, forensic evidence. And I believe most of us who are horrified by the judgement don't have that clear, forensic evidence to support our horror.