CCTV footage no longer an issue, judge says

The identity of a couple apparently rowing in the hotel where honeymooner Michaela McAreavey was strangled is no longer an issue in the trial of two men accused of her murder, the judge has told jurors.

Defence lawyers had originally claimed the man and woman captured on grainy CCTV images at the reception of the Legends hotel in Mauritius were the Tyrone teacher and her husband John.

However, barristers for defendants Avinash Treebhoowon and Sandip Mooneea yesterday told the Supreme Court in Port Louis they would not pursue that line of questioning.

Their move came after a request from the prosecution for the defence to make clear the couple were not the McAreaveys.

The lawyers stopped short of making a definitive statement on who was in the CCTV footage but said they would not be “pressing” on the matter.

In response, Mr Justice Prithviraj Fecknah told the jury the identity of the couple was not an issue for their deliberation.

Last week, assistant police commissioner Yoosoof Soopun testified the couple captured on camera the day Ms McAreavey died were actually German holidaymakers Harald Hoyer and Savarese Graziella.

The footage was filmed just after 3pm on Jan 10 last year, about 15 minutes after the prosecution claim the 27-year-old daughter of Tyrone Gaelic football boss Mickey Harte was murdered by two hotel employees.

Former room attendant Mr Treebhoowon, aged 31, and floor supervisor Mr Mooneea, aged 42, deny her murder.

The 20th day of the case saw Mr Soopun return to the stand and face rigorous questioning on his handling of the investigation.

However, he rejected as “totally unfounded” a claim from Rama Valayden, representing Mr Mooneea, that the probe had not been thorough enough.

The case adjourned for the day before lunch with the judge, jury, and lawyers set to visit the Legends hotel today to view the crime scene and associated locations.

The couple in the CCTV clip appeared to be engaged in a heated discussion, with the woman gesticulating and holding her head in her hands.

The court had been due to view further footage from the hotel in a bid to confirm who they actually were.

After the judge told the jury that identification was no longer an issue, chief prosecutor Mehdi Manrakhan asked could a clearer statement be given, indicating that the couple was definitely not the McAreaveys.

The judge said he could only indicate what the defence’s stance was. “I can’t go further unless counsel are prepared to give a further statement,” he said.

Mr Valayden instead spent the morning challenging Mr Soopun about other aspects of the investigation.

One focused on another German resident — named Schaer — and the recurring claims made during the trial that the guest had wanted to make a statement to police but was not accommodated.

Mr Soopun said this was not true and an assertion from the hotel’s head of security, Mohammed Imrit, that staff informed police of this fact was also incorrect.

He claimed Mr Imrit’s assertion was a further indication of the police’s view that they “did not obtain the full co-operation of the hotel”.

He asked if police had checked whether the times on the security cameras and on the electronic room card readers corresponded accurately with real time. Mr Soopun said no tests had been carried out to check.

With regard to the room readings, he insisted it was not an issue because he claimed they showed that a staff security card entered the McAreaveys’ room — 1025 — two minutes before the newlywed did.

“There was no reason for me to go and check the room settings.”

When the officer told the court there would only be a small difference, if any, between the readings and real time, the judge intervened.

“That is speculation,” he warned.

Mr Valayden asked the policeman was he aware that a male resident checked out of the hotel at 11.41pm on the night of the murder.

The police chief said he was not. He said no records of people entering or leaving the hotel on the day were taken.

The policeman was asked about four fingerprints recovered from the scene that did not belong to the Mc-Areaveys or the accused.

He said several people had been in the room when the honeymooner was first found, including other hotel guests. Mr Valayden asked why they had not been fingerprinted to eliminate them from inquiries.

“Some of the people who had access in the room had already left the country, my lord,” he explained.

Fellow Legends employee at the time Raj Theekoy is a key prosecution witness and has told the jury he saw the accused exit from the direction of room 1025 shortly after hearing a woman cry out in pain from inside.

Mr Valayden challenged Mr Soopun on how police were able to provisionally charge the defendants with murder hours before Mr Theekoy implicated them in a statement.

“Police inquiry, my lord,” he said. “We did have information that those two people were directly involved in the murder case.”

Another ex-hotel worker, security guard Dassen Naraynen, had been charged with conspiracy to murder but now faces a conspiracy to commit larceny charge.

Mr Valayden said if it was practice to medically examine all suspects for injuries, why had Mr Naraynen not been looked at by a doctor in the wake of his arrest.

Mr Soopun explained that he had never been considered an “active participant” in the crime.

Mr Valayden yesterday confronted Mr Soopun with claims that Mr Treebhoowon made a call about 12 minutes after the murder while Mr Mooneea was on the phone for more than four minutes at or just after the estimated 2.45pm time of the crime.

The officer said he was not aware of any of the calls.

Mr Manrakhan objected to the defence’s claim on Mr Mooneea, insisting there was only evidence that his phone was used, not that he was the one who used it.

The judge agreed.

Mr Valayden asked how Mr Soopun knew, only hours after the murder, that Ms McAreavey left her husband at a poolside restaurant to return to her room at 2.40pm if his officers had not yet interviewed the relevant staff on duty.

“There were several clients and we obtained information from them,” he explained.

The lawyer insisted the restaurant was empty apart from the McAreaveys.

The policeman replied: “These people [we questioned] were foreigners, they have refused to reveal their identity and we cannot force them to do so.”

Concluding his cross-examination, Mr Valayden challenged the assistant commissioner that the police investigation was not up to scratch.

“I am putting it to you officer that the inquiry concerning that murder has not been carried out thoroughly,” he said.

Mr Soopun replied: “That’s totally unfounded my lord.”

Mr Treebhoowoon signed a statement of confession three days after the murder but has since insisted it was extracted by police brutality.

Among numerous claims of mistreatment, he alleged that Mr Soopun threatened him with a gun he had tucked into his sock.

In response to this claim, the officer had been asked to produce firearms records to see if he had been issued with a revolver on the day in question.

He took documents to court which he said indicated no such weapon was in his custody at the time of the alleged incident.

Re-examining the witness for the prosecution, Mr Manrakhan asked if officers would carry revolvers in their socks.

Mr Soopun said it was not practical as the guns weighed 1.5-2lb.

“All officers carry their revolvers in their waist,” he said.

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