Sunday 17 December 2017

Why John McAreavey returned to Mauritius

When the Co Down man went back to Mauritius where wife Michaela was murdered, the BBC's Mark Simpson went too. Here, he reveals how the unexpected visit came about

John McAreavey arrives in Mauritius
John McAreavey arrives in Mauritius

Mark Simpson

It is a story that began and ended in two hotels, 9,500km apart. It started at the Wellington Park Hotel in south Belfast, and ended at the five-star Lux Hotel in northern Mauritius.

I first met John McAreavey on a wet Wednesday in Belfast last December. Four months later, I interviewed him outside the hotel where his wife Michaela was killed.

I had a number of key questions. Why was he prepared to go back to Mauritius? Why would he ever want to set foot on the island again?

It was not an easy meeting. We had never met before. I got the feeling he didn't trust the media.

We talked for an hour, and gradually the ice started to melt.

"I'm ready to speak out about what happened," he said.

BBC's Mark Simpson
BBC's Mark Simpson

"On the record?" I asked.

"Yes," he said.

"On camera?" I asked.

"Yes," he said.

John McAreavey with tragic Michaela
John McAreavey with tragic Michaela

"In Mauritius?" I asked.

"Yes."

There was only one thing he insisted he did not want to do - to go back into the hotel where Michaela was murdered.

What intrigued me at that first meeting with John was the timing of his decision. It had been six years since the killing. Two hotel workers accused of the murder had both been found not guilty five years previously. It appeared the investigation had run its course.

The Co Down man had recently remarried. However, it became clear that even though his circumstances had changed, he remained as determined as ever to keep fighting for justice - no matter how big a challenge that may be.

"You move forward with life, you enjoy the good things, but you don't shy away from the hard things either. You face them head on," he said.

John married Tara, an accountant from Co Kildare, in September. She was fully behind his decision to return to Mauritius.

"I'm very happy now and Tara is such wonderful person and amazes me because she supports me so much in this," he said. "Anyone that loves you, and loves you in the right way, will know that they'll support you in anything that's important in your life."

John arrived back in Mauritius on the first Saturday in April. With him were his sister Claire, who is a lawyer, and Mark Harte, the eldest of Michaela's three brothers.

For the next five days, a BBC 'Newsline' team followed them. We were surprised how calm John was when he first arrived. In his own words, he had his "business head" on.

He treated it like a job he had to do, he hid his eyes behind his sunglasses and tried not to let his emotions get the better of him. For the most part it worked. Only once did he crack in public. It happened 24 hours after returning to Mauritius.

The reality of being back seemed to suddenly hit John. Along with Claire and Mark, he went on a visit to the hideaway where they had all stayed five years ago, during the trial of the two hotel workers.

It was a novitiate, a training college for Catholic priests, deep in the countryside. There was no better place to escape the glare of media attention.

No one bothered him here. But returning brought back painful memories. He had flashbacks to the eight-week trial, hearing how Michaela had been killed and the daily ordeal of listening to all the evidence. It was all too much for John. He broke down.

He later admitted it had been by far the most difficult part of the entire five-day visit. The main purpose of the return to Mauritius was to make a public appeal for help in bringing the killer or killers to justice.

At a news conference in the Mauritian capital Port Louis, Mark Harte stared down the barrel of a local TV camera and made a direct appeal to the people.

He said: "The reality is that there are killers walking around. Are your families safe? Please come forward."

John, Claire and Mark had booked an evening flight home, leaving enough time for a final meeting with the police on their final day.

Just after 2pm, John phoned. Change of plan. He wanted to go back to the hotel where Michaela had been killed. I couldn't believe it. He had been adamant he would never go back.

The next few hours were among the most tense I have encountered in my 25 years in journalism.

Looking at John as he travelled to the hotel, I could see he was conflicted. He kept putting his hand over his mouth, and looking down at his feet.

The hotel changed its name from Legends to Lux after Michaela's murder. The reason John, Claire and Mark decided to go was because they wanted to put across their appeal directly to the hotel management. They wanted them to hear it face to face.

At the same time, John knew he was voluntarily returning to the scene of his worst nightmare. It took an hour to get there. It felt like a week.

The meeting with the hotel management was supposed to be brief. It went on well over an hour.

They made their flight home on time. Just.

It is now more than a month since John, Claire and Mark returned from Mauritius. Their visit did have an impact. The police have been given some new information, but not enough yet to make any new arrests.

It is hard to imagine what more they could have done. Yet that is not how they see it. They are determined to do more - much more. John insists he will keep going back to Mauritius, again and again, if necessary. He will not rest until he gets justice.

Irish Independent

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