The courtroom fell silent as the picture – a crude black-and-white shot of the crime scene – was passed around.
one was the image of the beaming bride, dressed in white, smiling blissfully next to her new husband; instead, the picture showed the aftermath of murder.
The pictures, produced in a Mauritian court as part of the 2011 preliminary inquiry into the murder of Michaela McAreavey, brought home the shocking reality of all that was lost in paradise on January 10, 2011.
Michaela, the only daughter of Tyrone county GAA team manager Mickey Harte, was found dead in the bathroom of her suite at Legends Hotel, in Grand Gaube, by her husband, John McAreavey.
In one murderous instant, the joy and bliss of their wedding day and the excitement of dreaming about their future when they returned to their new home in Lawrencetown, Co Down, was cruelly snatched away.
The reaction to what happened, and the subsequent national outpouring of grief, was unprecedented. In the days and weeks that followed, the glare of the world was fixed on ‘paradise’ and the horror that had unfolded inside room 1025 of Legends Hotel.
Now, almost 10 years after the tragic death of the 27-year-old teacher, Mauritius is once again under the spotlight.
Over the summer it emerged that Mauritian authorities had begun a fresh probe into the high-profile case. There was a fresh possibility the McAreavey and Harte families might finally get justice – but the hope has led to nothing.
The case was being investigated by a new team within the country’s Central Criminal Investigation Department (CCID).
However Dick Sui Wa, a lawyer representing the Harte and McAreavey families, cautioned against expecting too much, saying in August: “Let’s see what comes of it.”
For almost a decade, the mystery of what happened to Michaela has been a source of much intrigue.
John and Michaela were college sweethearts who met when they were both studying in Belfast in 2005. Three years later they got engaged in Paris and started planning a fairytale wedding.
On December 30, 2010, the couple said their vows in front of almost 300 family and friends and the next morning Mickey Harte drove the newlyweds to Dublin Airport, from where they caught a flight to Dubai for the first leg of their honeymoon.
They spent several happy days in Dubai, before jetting onwards to Mauritius in the Indian Ocean on January 8.
It was there that their love story was tragically cut short.
Michaela had spent a lot of time researching their honeymoon as it was one of only a handful of times they could go abroad because of her teaching schedule. She picked both destinations and both hotels, settling on the Legends Hotel in Mauritius based on its rave reviews.
When they arrived at the luxury resort, she was thrilled her request for a room upgrade was met with a smile. Asking for a better room was a routine the couple had tried out on other trips together, a quirky challenge that sometimes worked.
January 10 had started out normally. The couple woke up, had breakfast together and then John went and had a golf lesson while Michaela lay by the pool and topped up her tan.
After having lunch together, Michaela did what she always did – ordered a cup of tea to enjoy with her favourite chocolate bar, a Kit Kat. Because of the heat, the couple had stored the bars in the fridge in their room. John offered to go and get them, but his wife insisted she make the short journey back to their room herself.
Unbeknownst to the newlyweds, at 2.42pm, someone using a staff key card gained entry to room 1025 and slipped in unseen. After ordering the tea and kissing her husband for what turned out to be the last time, Michaela walked to their room. Key card readings show that at 2.44pm she opened the door, where it is believed she met her killer.
Meanwhile, John was back at the poolside Banyan restaurant, wondering what was keeping his wife. After about 15 minutes, he settled the bill and left.
He walked to their room, knowing she had taken the room key card with her. There was no response to his knocks on the door or the patio windows. His own key card was inside a pair of shorts he had been wearing earlier, so he made his way to reception to see if someone could help him gain access.
Bellboy Rajiv Bhujun walked back to the suite with John, unlocked the door and politely stepped away without looking inside. But within seconds he heard John screaming for help and ran back. Michaela was lying unresponsive in a bathtub full of water.
Bhujun, terrified at what he saw, fled to the reception to find hotel boss Brice Lunot, who within minutes was delivering CPR to Michaela.
Mr Lunot gave the honeymooner cardio-massage for 30 minutes until the doctor arrived.
Security guard Dassen Narayanen, whose DNA was later discovered inside the bathroom, stood inside the doorway and prevented anyone else from entering the room. At 4.10pm Michaela was pronounced dead by a doctor. She had suffered bruising to her neck and sustained a scratch on the right-hand side of her neck.
A post-mortem examination would show that she died from asphyxia due to compression of the neck.
A series of arrests quickly followed, as did the well-documented trial of two hotel workers for her murder. Both were acquitted, amid claims of a botched inquiry led by a team of officers looking for ‘scapegoats’.
The theory was that Michaela had stumbled upon an attempt to steal money from a purse that had been seen by cleaner Avinash Treebhoowoon the previous day. He was assisted in his crime by hotel supervisor Sandip Moonea, who allegedly strangled Michaela from behind when she caught them both in the act.
In the end, the jury acquitted both men.
There were allegations of police brutality and forced confessions, no DNA linking the two men to the crime scene was ever found and the credibility of the star witness in the case, a hotel worker who was originally charged in connection with the murder, was called into question.
From the outset, the case was littered with evidential inconsistencies. Of 39 pieces of evidence from the room, very few had been DNA tested – including Michaela’s purse, which was supposed to have been the focus of the robbery, according to the prosecution. The police had accidentally destroyed 98pc of the CCTV evidence from the hotel’s 46 cameras because they could not work the machines.
Even today, they have failed to talk to many of the taxi drivers, guests and hotel staff around the site at the time.
The central piece of evidence should have been the stolen master key card that was used to enter Michaela’s room. It was never traced, but a dummy key card was found in the hotel’s security office where the genuine card should have been.
It bore the DNA of Dassen Narayanen (28), the security officer who had been working at the hotel for four years. His DNA was also found on the guest safe in room 1025. He denied any involvement in Michaela’s death and all charges were dropped against him in 2013.
A much-heralded new investigation, headed by Superintendent Yaswant Callee of the Central Criminal Investigation Division, was completed in December 2012.
Nothing of note ever came of it.
Two years later, in 2014, it emerged that four new suspects, all allegedly former hotel employees, had been identified. No arrests were made.
More recently, in 2017, an elite task force was set up in Mauritius in a bid to bring those responsible for the killing to justice.
Back then, Prosecutor Satyajit Boolell said the investigation was ongoing and that those who killed Michaela will “face justice”.
He said he hoped the new task force uncovered “fresh and compelling evidence”.
Mr Boolell’s remarks came after John McAreavey travelled to Mauritius with his sister, Claire, and Mark Harte, Michaela’s brother, in a desperate effort to revive the case. Superintendent Daniel Monvoisin, an officer with a proven track record, was tasked with heading the hunt for Michaela’s killer.
A reward of two million Mauritian rupees (£39,000) was offered for new information, but failed to lead to a breakthrough in the investigation.
In 2012, as frustration over the outcome of the trial ensued, there were political pledges from the Mauritian authorities that “justice would be done”.
However, they have today admitted that justice won’t be done. In a short note to Independent.ie the DPP’s office said police “has closed its enquiry into the killing of Michaela Harte”.
The latest investigation produced “no fresh evidence” and so it appears nobody will ever be answerable for ending Michaela’s young life.
Source: Irish News