Wednesday, January 14, 2015


The Mauritian lawyer has been granted permission by the Attorney General’s office to take part in the hearings for the inquest into the death of Harmon Chellen. The hearings will take place in March. In this interview, Mr Rama Valayden says he is convinced that there have been inconsistencies in the approach of police and Constance Ephelia hotel.

You came over for the inquest into the death of Harmon Chellen set up by the Attorney General with the intention of asking for permission to take part in the proceedings. Are you happy with your working visit?

In the circumstances of this particular case, I must say that I am satisfied with the way things went. Firstly, I think the inquest before Magistrate Adeline went rather well because I was told before coming over that there would be a lot of problems but the magistrate did seem keen to iron out all the obstacles and he agreed to the request to postpone the hearing until March to give us enough time to carry out our investigation. Secondly, the Attorney General (AG) agreed to meet with us – a meeting that took place with the help of local lawyer Joel Camille, who is working with us. The meeting went very well. I must add that the AG also met with members of the family. He spoke of the intricacies of the case in front of the members of the family, which I think is a good thing.

 So yes, I am very impressed by the AG’s commitment to transparency which can only bode well. Thirdly, I am happy with the progress of my own inquiry. No criminal lawyer worth his salt will conduct a case without at least carrying out his own enquiry. In a very short span of time, we have been able to meet several people and to obtain information that wasn’t available before. I have been able to obtain photos, testimonies, visit certain places and meet workers of the hotel and have thus been able to fill in the gaps in the timeframe during which Mr Chellen was unaccounted for.

So you are saying that now you have a clear picture of what happened?

Yes and now that I have a clear picture, I am convinced that there have been many irregularities in this case.

On whose part?

I am economical with the truth when I say irregularities. I think it was more than that. But to answer your question, I think the irregularities came from the hotel and the police. I am basing this statement on the information I have received and obviously, all this information needs to be checked and crosschecked. It is important that the people who have imparted this information feel confident enough to come to court to depone. If not, all that information will go to waste. But at the very least, for the members of the family to know now what really went on that fatal Monday is a big consolation and it gives them comfort and helps them in their period of mourning.

Can you give us an idea of the chain of events that led to the death of Mr Chellen?

It’s not hard to retrace the steps of Mr Chellen. The police will have to produce the CCTV footage of the hotel before the court. This is important because we must know how many police officers went to the hotel to take Mr Chellen. Not just that, it is also important to know the type of vehicle they used. What is also of utmost important is to find out how Mr Chellen was dressed when he left the hotel. This is important because in these sorts of cases, it is important to look at the details. I can tell you that the clothes Harmon Chellen was wearing on the Monday morning when he left the hotel to go to the police station were later found in his suitcase!

Are you sure?

I am. And that suitcase was at the hotel. The family has already recuperated it. So how does one explain that he had those clothes on when he went to the station and those clothes were later found in the suitcase that was left at the hotel?

So what are you saying – that he went back to the hotel?

No. What I am saying is that this is the first information that gives you an indication that there is something wrong – how come the suit was back in the suitcase when Mr Chellen supposedly never went back to the hotel? Does this mean that Harmon Chellen did in fact go back to the hotel? The CCTV footage of the hotel will enlighten us on this. Also if he returned to the hotel, people must have seen him. This gives another dimension to the case. On the other hand, if he did not return to the hotel, how did the clothes end up there? The only people who could have put it there are the police.

With the help of people at the hotel, presumably?

Maybe the police went to the hotel after they found Mr Chellen’s body and they went to pick the suitcase up as part of the enquiry. But then they must explain what they did with the suit. I must remind you that Mr CHellen was found with his shirt, shoes and belt missing. And we all know that shoes and belt are always removed from a prisoner when he is under arrest. The belt is removed so that the person doesn’t use it to commit suicide and the shoes to prevent the person from running away. The shirt was probably taken from him because he was feeling hot in the cell. Let’s not forget there are three cells in the Port Glaud police station.

So he was actually in a cell? The police have never confirmed this.

I am not sure but it does stand to reason that one would not be without one’s shirt, belt and shoes while waiting at the reception.
 But this is what the police have said so far – that he was waiting at the reception because they were waiting for another officer to interrogate him! Yes it is indeed what they have said officially so far. We must verify this information. The police must be able to substantiate what they say. We all know that the Port Glaud police station is a very small station, three metres by four. The reception and the place where the officer stands measures only one metre. One can easily see what people are doing. Was the station busy on that day? Were they attending to other requests? All these things will have to come out.

Have you managed to speak to police officers so far?

I have not yet been communicated the version of the police. But I’ll get it eventually as this information will have to come to court. The Magistrate was adamant when he said to the representatives of the AG office that they must make available all the documentary evidence. This includes the occurrence book.

If you have been able in just two days to get that much information, it follows that the information would have been available to anyone who’d asked the right questions?

Maybe it’s easy to say this now after I have pondered on the case for a long period of time. Spending a lot of time thinking about a case does help you with regards to the questions you have to ask. Or maybe I’m just lucky! And maybe the people who spoke to me were scared to speak to other people. You know, when you are conducting an enquiry, people must feel free to talk to you, they must also be confident that whatever they say to you won’t be repeated elsewhere or held against them. Confidentiality must be respected.

And this reluctance to talk could actually undermine the inquest. Let’s say you keep on digging and you find more information to support your case but you have no one to corroborate this in court. What happens?

There are many layers in this case and the first one will be quasi impossible to prove: the innocence or guilt of Mr Chellen with regards to the allegations of harassment. He is not here today and we only have the lady’s word.

This won’t be part of the inquest though?

No. Unfortunately, they called the lady perhaps to set the basis as to why the police came to get Mr Chellen in the first place. Again the CCTV footage of the hotel should help clear things up. The testimonies of the people at the hotel who spoke to Mr Chellen about the complaint and his reaction to the accusation will also help. When the police called at the hotel, what did they do? Did they arrest Mr Chellen? Did they force him to come with them? Was Mr Chellen in the company of the lady as well as her husband when he left the hotel? Were they in the same van? Did the police take the statements straight away? Did Mr Chellen resist arrest? Did he ask for a lawyer? Having known Mr Chellen for a long time and having studied with him in London, I know that faced with such a situation, he would have wanted to speak to a lawyer. I am sure of that. There was no attempt to get in touch with a lawyer and yet Mr Chellen was a man who knew his rights.
 So I think we’ll find at the very least that there has definitely been negligence in this case. But I also think there’s a chance that there was more than just negligence and so many questions will need to be asked and I know they will not be in favour of the police because of the time schedule.

The discrepancies in the timeline are what had initially raised doubts about the version of the police…

Yes and sadly for some police officers, everything will come out. I say sadly because the famous question of Watergate will have to be asked: what did you do when you knew?

The timeline doesn’t add up, like we said. Have you been able to find out more about this?

Rumour has it that at one time the police phoned the AG for a stop order. The police are now in a quandary because they keep saying there was no arrest. If there was no arrest, why would there have been an objection to departure? What we know is that everything that the police entered into the book was done after 2.15pm. And in the book, there isn’t anything about Mr Chellen’s arrest.
 The first statement that came from the police said he had escaped at about 1.30 and that his body was found at 2.50pm. Does that make sense to you?

 No. I quizzed the person who saw the body in the sea and he said the body was found at 2.50pm. When the person found the body, he phoned the police and then he went to the shore to get help and then when he went back the body had moved so he spent another 20 minutes looking for it. Fishermen confirm this. They also confirm that the police refused to help them to pick the body. I don’t know if this is the protocol but this is what happened.

At this point, after having spoken to the AG and seen things for yourself, are you confident that the inquest will give an indication of what happened?

I am sure the inquest will help us to find the truth and we’ll definitely see that some things have gone amiss.

The Mauritian government sent an officer, Mr Gerard, on a watching brief. How did that work out?

I have been given to understand that he was not even been able to see any official documents, let alone evidence.

So it was a wasted trip?

Indeed and I am going to write a report to inform government of this. Mr Gerard wasn’t even allowed to visit the Port Glaud station. Yet I was and contrarily to him, I wasn’t on official business. He wasn’t able to meet the police officers who were in charge of the enquiry. He only obtained an appointment an hour and a half before he was supposed to leave the country. This perception is that Mr Gerard was not given all the facilities to give a helping hand, despite the fact that his presence follows an agreement between the governments of the two countries.

But isn’t Mauritius undermining Seychelles when they insist on sending a police officer? The death occurred in Seychelles, shouldn’t it be down to the Seychelles police to do their job?

Mr Gerard was here because there was a protocol between Mauritius and Seychelles. He was here officially so there is no question of undermining. In cases like this, one must look beyond borders. It’s about justice and human beings. Mauritius and Seychelles can give the example of cooperation to find the truth. It shouldn’t be a matter of ego.

Had the situation been reversed, would Mauritius have allowed Seychelles access? You are a former AG – would you have helped?

I would have given them all the facilities because the truth is what matters. In the case of the murder of the tourist Michaela Harte, Mauritius gave a lot of latitude to the family who were the guests of government. They were treated as VIPs, they had police officers to escort them. In court, they were given special places, they were received by police officers, and their barrister was allowed to ask questions during the trial at the Assizes. Lawyers like myself who were defending accused parties never had any objections.

Were the Irish police involved?

 Yes, they received all information and facilities. It all depends on the goodwill of the government.