independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

Michaela murder: Mystery as police admit no other leads

THE mystery of the missing 46 minutes when Michaela McAreavey was murdered deepened last night as police admitted they have no leads and no other suspects.

After two former hotel workers were acquitted of murdering the honeymooner in Mauritius, her stunned husband John McAreavey shook his head and left the court without a word.

The only statement from both sides of her family said: "After waiting 18 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."

It came as a senior detective who helped lead the murder probe last night said it was too early to say whether the investigation would be reopened.

Any probe will focus on the 46 key minutes from 2.40pm on the day she died until 3.26pm, when her body was found.

Inspector Ranjit Jokhoo of the Major Crime Investigation Team said police had no new leads in the case and no other potential suspects in mind following the acquittal of hotel workers Avinash Treebhoowoon and Sandip Moneea.

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.

Compounding the distress for the McAreavey and Harte families, one of the defence lawyers attacked Michaela's grieving husband John saying he should be interviewed under caution by police before he leaves Mauritius.

Michaela left her husband at lunch at 2.40pm on January 10, 2011 and before he eventually discovered her strangled in the bath of their hotel room.

John McAreavey broke down in tears during the trial as he told the court how he found Michaela's lifeless body floating in the bath tub at about 3.26pm.

The young teacher was found with severe injuries to her neck, including a broken bone and a series of abrasions and scratch marks.

The doctor who carried out the post-mortem, police medic Sunil Kumar Gungadin, said these marks must have been caused by Michaela's own finger nails as she tried to break free from her killer's grip.

He concluded that she had been strangled with "considerable force" and died by "asphyxia due to compression of the neck".

He estimated that her death had taken two minutes.

The police had claimed that hotel workers Avinash Treebhoowoon and Sandip Moneea killed the honeymooner after she interrupted them stealing from her room.

But a confession by Mr Treebhoowoon, which he has always claimed was beaten out of him by police, was unanimously rejected by the jury.

As was the confession's contention that it was Mr Moneea who ultimately strangled Michaela.

The outright acquittal of the two men has mean that the the horrific events of those key 46 minutes on the afternoon of January 10, 2011, are shrouded in mystery.

The court heard how the couple had been relaxing in the Legends Hotel following lunch that afternoon.

In his evidence, John -- who had been ruled out by police as a potential suspect -- said he met Michaela for lunch following a golf lesson.

He said that following their food, Michaela said she wanted to return to their room to collect a "dark chocolate Kit-Kat" to eat with tea.

The prosecution estimated that Michaela entered their suite room 1025 at about 2.44pm -- two minutes after a mystery key card was used to access it.

The card labelled "GMK Supervisor 2" was never found.

It is not known who used it and the door reading does not indicate if they entered the room, simply that the card was inserted into the device.

In his evidence, Mr McAreavey said he waited for his wife to return for about 15 minutes before leaving for their bedroom.

He said he got no answer at the door of the room, and returned to the hotel reception to get another key card as he didn't have his with him.

A bellboy, Rhajiv Bhujun, came with him to open the door, and he entered alone, the court heard. This was estimated to be at 3.26pm.

The manager of the Banyan restaurant in the hotel, Mark L'Olive, read into evidence from his order book that Michaela's order for tea was taken at 2.40pm. He said that when he brought the tea to the couple's table -- four minutes after the order had been placed -- Michaela was not there.

He said John told him to put the tea on the table and that his wife would be back. Mr L'Olive said John waited at the table for about 15 minutes before signing the bill and walking off.

Assistant police commissioner Yusef Soopun, also told the trial that John was captured on CCTV at the hotel reception at about 3.15pm.

During the trial, the defence laid bare gaps in the investigation which have heightened the mystery. These include:

- Police found no forensic evidence linking the two accused to the crime.

- No statements were taken from a number of potential witnesses, including other guests staying in Legends Hotel, close to the McAreaveys' room.

- No other testimonies from potential witnesses in the Banyan restaurant.

- Four fingerprints found in the room were never traced to anyone.

- A German couple recorded arguing in CCTV footage around the same time in the hotel lobby were never interviewed.

Irish Independent

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