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Sunday 25 February 2018

For her heartbroken family, justice is as far away as ever

Cormac McQuinn in Mauritius

ROOM 1025 of Legends Hotel was supposed to be where John and Michaela McAreavey would spend some of the happiest days of their married life.

They were supposed to be enjoying the luxury suite, the Mauritian resort's private lagoon, and cocktails at the pool on the final week of their honeymoon following a fairytale wedding.

But the GAA player and his former Rose of Tralee contestant sweetheart were in the Mauritian paradise resort just two days before the terrible events of the afternoon of January 10, 2011.

As John later put it in court, it was that day, just after the pair had eaten their last lunch together, that: "Michaela's life was ended and my life was ended."

It was in room 1025 that Michaela, the daughter of Tyrone GAA boss Mickey Harte, was murdered in the most brutal manner, horrifically strangled to death at the hotel she had picked for her honeymoon.

And with the acquittal of the two hotel workers who had been accused of her murder, Michaela's family may never know the truth about her terrible final moments.

Mickey will be left wondering how his cherished daughter met her fate in room 1025 and her husband John is similarly no closer to the truth about how his beloved wife was killed.

Police had accused two hotel workers, Avinash Treebhoowoon and Sandip Moneea, of stealing from the McAreaveys' room when Michaela walked in and caught them red-handed, talking money from her purse.

They said that to silence her screams, the men strangled her in the most horrific way imaginable for a few hundred rupees.

But the jury has unanimously rejected the prosecution case, and the police investigation such as it was, leaving the mystery of exactly what happened to Michaela in room 1025 unsolved.

The true scale of the tragedy that has befallen the Harte and McAreavey families was vividly illustrated over the course of the eight-week trial of her murderers in the Mauritian Supreme Court.

And never more so, than when her heart-broken husband, held the court in rapt attention, struggling to contain his emotions as spoke of their last days together.

John described his slain bride as, "the most beautiful person I have seen. I've yet to see anyone prettier than Michaela".

"She completed my whole life," he said, adding: "She was full of life, full of fun, full of happiness."

He explained how she turned 27, the day after a magical wedding in her hometown of Ballygawley, Co Tyrone.

And how after a reception in the Slieve Russell Hotel, the pair flew out to Dubai for the first blissful week of their honeymoon.

He told how they had bought a house in Lawrencetown, Co Down, but that they hadn't spent a single night there as it was something they were looking forward to upon their return to Ireland.

According to John, they chose Mauritius for the second leg of their honeymoon because Michaela was "always adamant" she wanted to see the island.

And he said it was his wife who made the fateful decision to book a room in Legends Hotel because she'd heard it was popular with Irish tourists.

They arrived on the paradise island on January 8, little knowing that Michaela would be dead less than 48 hours later.

They visited the hotel spa on the first day, and John booked a golf lesson for the 10th.

That morning after breakfast, he took to the putting greens while Michaela relaxed by the pool near their suite in the deluxe block of rooms.

He explained how they met up after his lesson and got in the swimming pool for a while, and also how he encountered one of the men accused of her murder, room cleaner Mr Treebhoowoon, outside his room.

Mr Treebhoowoon asked if he could clean the room and John told him to return five minutes later.

When he came back he found a 'do not disturb' sign on the door, but after consulting with his supervisor Mr Moneea was told to clean the room anyway.

At 2.10pm he entered and began his routine of making the bed and cleaning the bathroom, a process he said took 25 minutes.

Mr Treebhoowoon said he had finished his work and left room 1025, going to get his cleaning trolley repaired at the hotel boathouse, before Michaela returned to her suite at about 2.46pm.

John and Michaela had been enjoying lunch at the poolside Banyan restaurant.

When they had finished, Michaela ordered tea and said she was going to return to their room to collect a dark chocolate Kit Kat.

John told the court how he had offered to go himself, as he had the previous night after dinner, but said Michaela told him: "No it's okay, I'll go."

"I obviously wish she had let me go back to the room," he said.

What happened next, with the acquittal of the two men and rejection of the prosecution's version of events, is shrouded in mystery.

The prosecution's version had relied on a confession by Mr Treebhoowoon that he has always said he signed after suffering extensive beatings and torture by the supposedly elite police officers of the Major Crime Investigation Team.

In the confession rejected by the jury, Mr Treebhoowoon stated that he and Mr Moneea had been stealing from a wallet in the McAreavey's room when Michaela caught them red-handed.

The statement said that he had pushed her to the ground and told his co-accused: "Let's stop her screaming."

The confession stated that it was Mr Moneea who strangled her before they put Michaela in the bath to "get rid of any clues".

The prosecution was also relying on the testimony of another hotel worker, Raj Theekoy, who was originally arrested in connection with Michaela's murder, but was later granted immunity in exchange for testifying.

He claimed in court that he was outside room 1025 at 2.45pm and heard a woman screaming and that he fled to a nearby room, number 1021 from where he said he could see who emerged.

His testimony was also rejected by the jury.

The only potential clues to what happened inside room 1025 that afternoon may be found in Dr Sunil Kumar Gungadin's autopsy report, which describes Michaela's terrible death in graphic detail.

He said that she died in a violent struggle and that her own fingernails scratched her neck as she tried to wrench Mr Moneea's arm away as he was strangling her.

According to Dr Gungadin's report, her nose bled and there were "haemorrhages" in both eyes due to the "considerable amount of force" being applied to her neck -- enough force to break a neck bone.

Dr Gungadin said that a "bite mark on the tongue is a compatible feature of when the person enters the convulsive phase of asphyxiated death".

Whoever killed the young bride gave her an absolutely horrendous death.

Meanwhile, John McAreavey was still sitting in the poolside bar while Michaela was being strangled only a couple of hundred metres away.

He stayed there for 15 minutes before, getting anxious about his wife, he checked the room. Getting no answer, he walked to reception to get another room key because he didn't have his with him.

A bellboy came with him to open the room and John says he entered alone at about 3:26pm.

John told the court: "When I went in the first thing I saw was Michaela in the bathtub," adding that at first he had thought Michaela had fainted after getting into a hot bath to ease the chronic period pains she suffered from.

However he continued: "I could hear the water gushing in the bathtub and Michaela was face up, bobbing in the water."

At this point in proceedings John burst into tears and prosecutor Mehdi Manrakhan said: "I know it is hard, but you have to tell us."

John wiped his eyes, and took heavy breaths as he choked back the tears.

"Someone get him a glass of water," his sister Claire piped up from the gallery.

"It's fine, it's fine," John said, as he continued to tell the court how he lifted his wife's cold, lifeless body from the water.

He said he flung the door open and screamed for help, with the bellboy responding and running off to get manager Brice Lunot.

John described how her lips were blue as he screamed at her, "Michaela, Michaela, wake up. C'mon, c'mon!"

"I tried CPR," he said. "I don't know CPR but I held her in my arms and kept telling her to 'wake up!'"

According to John, he tore her skirt when he had pulled it down to check if she was sexually assaulted, saying: "My mind was racing. All kinds of thoughts were going through my head. I saw the marks on Michaela's neck and knew something horrible had happened."

He said Mr Lunot soon arrived and was also attempting CPR.

He would later say: "I was with John during that moment and I know what his pain was."

As the hotel manager continued to try and revive Michaela, John frantically made phone calls home.

Reaching Michaela's father, Mickey, he said: "I was in hysterics, I couldn't utter the words of what happened."

He said that when he saw Mr Lunot step away from Michaela's body: "I knew she was gone. I could barely breath. I was just all over the place, all over the place."

That didn't stop him begging a doctor who arrived a short while later to use a defibrillator on Michaela.

He said the doctor was "looking at me and looking at Michaela and he said: 'What do you want me to do? She's dead.'"

At this point, he said: "I collapsed on the bed and I was like a hysterical child grabbing at the bed clothes and lying there completely distraught."

John didn't know that his ordeal was about to get worse as later that afternoon the police would arrive to take him away for questioning.

He would suffer six hours alone, handcuffed in custody, before being released when police suspicions began to be focused elsewhere.

John said that the first few days without his wife were a blur as he was moved to another hotel and members of his family including his father Brendan arrived on the island.

He also received support from Irish clergy, living in Mauritius, as well as the Irish Embassy in South Africa.

Fr Pat Murphy, originally from Cork, was one of the first to comfort John as he struggled to come to terms with his wife's brutal murder. He said: "I just did my best to console him. I said we'd pray for him."

A Loreto nun from Dublin, sister Miriam Boyle, also visited him and later said that during those terrible hours she found John inconsolable.

With the acquittal of Mr Treebhoowoon and Mr Moneea, John now leaves Mauritius again, knowing that whoever killed his wife remains free, and justice for Michaela is as far away as ever.

Irish Independent

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