Saturday 20 January 2018

Hotel worker's four-minute telephone chat with older sister was crucial to his defence

David Young

A TELEPHONE call Sandip Moneea made to his older sister on the day Michaela McAreavey died was crucial in proving his innocence.

Having recently returned from honeymoon, he said, he called to check if her children were behaving and whether her diabetic husband was in good health.

The four-minute call was made just after 2.45pm -- the supposed time Mrs McAreavey was strangled. For his defence team and, now it appears, the jury, this was evidence the 43-year-old was innocent.

If his life had taken a different turn, Mr Moneea might not have even been in Mauritius when Mrs McAreavey was murdered.

The former factory worker moved to England in 1999 and lived there for five years, albeit illegally after his six-month tourist visa expired.

When he finally reapplied for a visa, it was refused and he returned home.

During the trial it emerged that a fake French national ID card with his photo, but under another name, claiming citizenship of the French island of Reunion, was found at his house when he was arrested.

He rejected prosecution claims that after a short spell as a painter and decorator he had used the ID to dupe a London hotel to employ him, until he was eventually deported in 2004.

"I returned myself," he insisted.

During his time in London, he said, he worked at the Thistle Hotel in Lancaster Gate as a housekeeper -- earning around €900 a month and staying with his uncle in Finsbury Park.

Back in Mauritius he briefly moved into the family home in Rose Belle, a village in the south-east where he had attended school.

Then he landed a job at Legends. The hotel is located at the north tip of the island. His older sister, Malah Gajudhur, who lives in the town of Goodlands, offered him a bed and he lived there for the next five years.

Mr Moneea, who speaks with a slight stammer, insisted his time at the hotel was a positive one until his arrest. He was a floor supervisor responsible for the four deluxe accommodation blocks. He was in charge of five room attendants.

While the head of housekeeping confirmed there had been no previous complaints about his behaviour, describing him as a "straight worker", he did reveal there had been some concern about the cleanliness of certain rooms.

Prosecutor Mehdi Manrakhan used this to allege the accused was lazy and not very good at his job, noting that of the 48 deluxe rooms, he apparently checked only four on the day of the murder.

But Mr Moneea produced a series of letters from hotel manager Brice Lunot thanking him for his efforts at various junctures during his employment.

His wife Reka was an outspoken advocate for her husband. During the trial the government worker sat in the public gallery taking copious notes.

The couple were married on December 5, 2010 -- three- and-a-half weeks before the McAreaveys.

Mr Moneea had moved into a house he had been building in Petit Raffray two months before the wedding. He started work on it in 2006 and it remains unfinished.

After his arrest, Mrs Moneea moved back to her family, not wanting to live alone in the marital home.

Both husband and wife insist they are devout Hindus. This was something she would stress when protesting his innocence.

Both said that every Monday -- the day Mrs McAreavey was killed -- they fasted in devotion to the god Shiva.

Irish Independent

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