Tuesday 12 December 2017

Michaela trial: Widower John could return to witness box

David Young in Port Louis, Mauritius

THE WIDOWER of honeymooner Michaela McAreavey could return to the witness box to change evidence he gave to the trial of two men accused of her murder.

The prosecution is considering whether to officially ask the court in Mauritius whether John McAreavey can be recalled after he indicated he had made an error on the stand.

But lawyers for the two men on trial for murdering his 27-year-old bride at the luxury Legends Hotel on the island have made clear they would object to such a move.

The daughter of Tyrone gaelic football boss Mickey Harte was found strangled in her room in January last year.

The prosecution claims she was murdered by Legends workers Sandip Moneea and Avinash Treebhoowoon when she returned to the room to fetch some biscuits and found them stealing.

On the 13th day of the high-profile trial in the Supreme Court in Port Louis, a fellow employee broke down on the stand after claiming police forced him to sign a witness statement.

But Govinden Samynaden was then accused by the prosecution of lying to the court about the whereabouts of his long-standing colleague Moneea at the time of the murder.

The jury also heard from the head of security at Legends, who said the key card that opened room 1025 shortly before Mrs McAreavey is said to have gone in was a "dummy" that had not been officially authorised.

Mohammad Mehtaz Imrit later confirmed that another suspect in the case - Legends security guard Dassen Naraynen - was spotted on CCTV walking on a wall close to room 1025 on the day of the murder and was not supposed to be there.

Mr Imrit said Naraynen had been posted elsewhere that morning but had asked to change his position to one closer to the deluxe block where the McAreaveys were staying.

In emotional testimony yesterday, Mr McAreavey revealed that he offered to get the biscuits for his wife but she told him not to worry because he had already done it for her the night before.

But he was challenged by defence lawyer Rama Valayden, representing Moneea, who said electronic readings of entries to the room that evening did not tally with his account.

Today, Mr McAreavey's lawyer Dick Ng Sui Wa said his client wanted to inform the court that he had got the date wrong and the incident actually happened two days before the January 10 murder.

"In fact, it was not on January 9 2011, it was on the 8th, and that's the reason it was not borne out in the room readings," he explained.

A lawyer for Treebhoowoon, Sanjeev Teeluckdharry, insisted that Mr Ng Sui Wa was in court with a watching brief for a witness and so could not admit evidence.

Mr Ng Sui Wa said it was not evidence but just a statement.

Judge Mr Justice Prithviraj Fecknah agreed and pointed out that if he wanted the information to be included as formal evidence, then the prosecution would need to make an official motion to court.

Chief prosecutor Mehdi Manrakhan said he would consider the statement before deciding whether to proceed with a motion.

Mr Valayden and Mr Teeluckdharry later told the judge they would be objecting to any such course of action.

Mr Manrakhan said he would outline how he intends to proceed in the morning.

Mr McAreavey, 27, was back in courtroom five today, this time to join his father Brendan, sister Claire and brother-in-law Mark Harte in the public gallery.

He had been unable to attend proceedings until yesterday when he completed his evidence.

Former Legends room attendant Treebhoowoon, 31, from Plaine des Roches, and ex-floor supervisor Moneea, 42, from Petit Raffray, deny murdering Irish language and religious education teacher Mrs McAreavey, from Ballygawley, Co Tyrone.

Mr Imrit said the staff key card used to enter room 1025 at 2.42pm on the day of the murder had not been authorised by him and was not signed for. The prosecution say Mrs McAreavey entered two minutes later.

"It was a dummy card then?" asked Mr Manrakhan.

"Yes," he replied.

He said he did not know what happened to the original key card.

Mr Manrakhan asked him to outline the entry times to room 1025 on January 8 - the night Mr McAreavey now says he went back to get biscuits.

He said there were three entries - at 7.59pm, 10.13pm and 11.12pm.

Mr Imrit said that the card used by Moneea accessed room 1020 at 2.28pm on the day of the murder.

Under cross-examination, Mr Valayden asked him about one of the security guards under his control at the time - Naraynen.

He told the court that Naraynen had been posted to work at the hotel's main gate that morning.

"He asked to change," said Mr Imrit, explaining that he went to the area around the deluxe block which contained room 1025.

Mr Valayden then asked the security chief about his review of the CCTV pictures in the wake of the murder.

"Would I be correct to say on the wall (between the deluxe building and the waterfront) in the direction of 1025 there was a security guard walking on the wall looking in the direction of 1021 to 1028, in the direction of 1025?"

He added: "Was that security guard's name Dassen Naraynen?"

Mr Imrit replied: "Yes." He said it was not part of a guard's duty to be on the wall.

Mr Imrit then revealed that Naraynen asked for sick leave two days after the murder after turning up with a plaster on his leg, claiming he was incapacitated.

Mr Valayden asked whether it true that he was spotted shortly afterwards walking around a supermarket.

"I don't know," replied the witness.

Naraynen currently faces a provisional charge of conspiracy to commit larceny in connection with the McAreavey case. He denies any involvement.

The trial has already heard claims from the defence that a German couple who were staying at the hotel requested to make a statement but were not facilitated because of the language barrier.

Mr Imrit said police did eventually come to speak to them four days after the crime but that they had left the day before.

The court then heard from Legends room attendant Mr Samynaden, who like Mr Imrit testified in his native French Creole.

He told the jury that Moneea was with him at about 2.30pm on the day of Mrs McAreavey's death in the vicinity of rooms 1008, 1009 and 1010.

The witness claimed he was washing the floor with Moneea for 15 minutes in room 1009 after 2.30pm.

But Mr Manrakhan pointed out that he only said he was doing this for two to three minutes in his police statement.

Mr Samynaden denied the lawyer's suggestion that he was scared and hesitant in the stand.

But shortly afterwards he broke down and cried when, under cross examination, Mr Valayden asked if the police frightened him when he was giving his statement.

"Stop crying," the lawyer urged. "Tell the truth, don't be scared here."

Mr Samynaden responded: "Yes, they made me frightened. They said 'there are already three behind bars, you too will be there'.

"I don't have means, I was an orphan, I couldn't pay for a lawyer. They swore at me."

He added: "Police forced me to sign, some were hitting the table. They said 'today you will go to jail, so inform your family'.

"I saw they were making errors, making mistakes about the times, I did not understand what they wanted. There was so much pressure, I had to sign."

Mr Valayden then asked: "Before 2.55pm, was Sandip Moneea with you?"

The witness replied: "Yes."

"Thank you very much," said Mr Valayden as he sat down.

But Mr Manrakhan, re-examining the witness, disputed this and referred to earlier evidence from Mr Imrit that Moneea's key card placed him at room 1020 at 2.28pm.

"How could Sandip Moneea be with you if he was at room 1020 at 2.28pm?" he asked.

"I don't remember," Mr Samynaden responded.

Mr Manrakhan accused him of not telling the truth.

"I am telling the truth," the witness insisted.

The prosecutor then asked whether he was friends with Moneea, a man he had worked closely with for five years.

Mr Samynaden said they were just "colleagues".

Mr Manrakhan again pressed the witness.

"How can you explain that Sandip Moneea was all this time with you when at that time at room 1020 he was opening the door at 2.28pm?"

"I don't know," he replied.

Raj Theekoy, another Legends employee in January 2011, has already told the court he saw Treebhoowoon and Moneea exit room 1025 shortly after hearing a woman screaming inside.

But his account was challenged by Mr Valayden earlier this week when the lawyer claimed he was having tea and joking with Treebhoowoon in the staff canteen an hour after the honeymooner was killed.

Mr Theekoy rejected this version of events, adding that he did not even drink tea.

Mr Samynaden today claimed he was with both men in the canteen at the time and insisted they were all drinking tea and were sharing jokes.

The day began with hotel manager Brice Lunot briefly concluding his evidence.

Under cross-examination, he told Mr Teeluckdharry that of five suspects originally arrested at Legends, only one had returned to work there.

Press Association

Promoted Links

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News