Final security measures have been rehearsed at Mauritius’s Supreme Court ahead of the trial of two men accused of murdering Michaela McAreavey, the daughter of Tyrone football manager Mickey Harte.
Police and court officials ran through carefully co-ordinated preparations for one of the most high-profile criminal cases ever held in the Indian Ocean holiday island.
The 27-year-old honeymooner was found strangled in her luxury room in the five-star Legends Hotel in January last year, two weeks after marrying her sweetheart John.
Court five will be packed to capacity as hotel employees Avinash Treebhoowoon, 30, and Sandip Moneea, 42, are led to the dock tomorrow morning to face a charge of premeditated murder. They deny involvement in the teacher’s death.
Mrs McAreavey’s widower John is expected to sit only yards from the defendants in the public gallery, having flown back to the island to give evidence for the prosecution.
The case will start after a jury of nine is selected from a large panel of potential jurors.
With crowds expected to descend on the French colonial-era building in the capital city Port Louis, the authorities have taken extra steps to ensure the defendants are transported swiftly into court from the high-security La Bastille prison in the nearby town of Phoenix.
On the bustling street outside the Supreme Court today, the trial was already drawing interest.
“This was so unusual for a tourist to be murdered,” said one taxi driver.
“While I know people in Ireland are very interested in this, in Mauritius too this is a very big case.”
Though most inhabitants of the island speak a variant of French as their first tongue, court proceedings will be heard in English.
From Ballygawley, Co Tyrone, Mrs McAreavey was the only daughter of Harte, who has steered his native county to three All-Ireland championships.
The teetotal devout Catholic was honeymooning at the Legends complex on the north-east coast of the island and had momentarily left her husband at the poolside to return to their room to collect biscuits for a cup of tea.
Her body was discovered a short time later in the bath.
Hotel room attendant Treebhoowoon, from Plaine des Roches, and floor supervisor Moneea, from Petit Raffray, were arrested in the hours that followed.
Mr McAreavey, a talented footballer from Co Down, has returned to Mauritius with members of his and the Harte family. Mickey Harte is not attending.
Judge Mr Justice Prithviraj Fecknah will preside over the trial, which is expected to last two weeks. Thirty witnesses are listed to give evidence.
The Legends Hotel, which has since been renamed the Lux Hotel, is in the fishing village of Grand Gaube, close to Mauritius’s Grand Bay.
Mrs McAreavey taught religious education and the Irish language at St Patrick’s Academy in Dungannon, Co Tyrone.
Her Requiem Mass was held close to her family home at St Malachy’s chapel in Ballymacilroy – the same church she had married in a fortnight before she was killed.
Then-president Mary McAleese was among dignitaries at a funeral attended by more than 3,000 people, as the newlywed was buried in her wedding dress.