“I still miss her so so much and in human terms, your heart is broken.”
-Mickey Harte, Michaela's father
It was the 10th of January 2011. A Monday. Twenty seven year old Michaela McAreavey was in Mauritius with her husband John McAreavey. Michaela and John were from County Tyrone in Northern Ireland and flew to Mauritius as part of their honeymoon. They had married two weeks earlier, on the 30th of December, in Ireland and had spent the first seven days of their honeymoon in Dubai. They had a fantastic time in Dubai and were due to spend the rest of their honeymoon in Mauritius. Michaela and John met at University in 2005 and had been a couple ever since.
John and Michaela McAreavey
Michaela picked Mauritius as a destination for their honeymoon and after researching hotels, they chose the five star Legends Hotel resort as it had great reviews and was popular with Irish guests.It was in the fishing village of Grande Gaube, north east of the country. They arrived at the hotel on the 8th of January. They were booked in for the all inclusive package so all of their meals and activities were covered. When they were checking in at the hotel, they asked if there was any possibility that they could be upgraded. The hotel confirmed there was an available room in the deluxe accommodation block and they were booked in there. Room 1025.
That day, the 10th of January 2011, John and Michaela had breakfast in the hotel and John went to the golf course for a while. Michaela sunbathed. When John got back, they met for lunch. After lunch, they decided to have some tea and Michaela had brought some biscuits to Mauritius with her, dark chocolate Kit Kats, and she went to the hotel room to get them. John stayed downstairs and took a few photos and watched some video while he waited.
John noticed that Michaela seemed to be taking a long time so he went back to the room to find her. It was around 3pm. As soon as John entered, he discovered Michaela in the bathtub. She was cold and her lips were blue and he pleaded with her to wake up. He noticed marks on her neck and did not know what was wrong. He tried CPR but there was no movement at all. Michaela was dead.
Police were notified of an incident at the hotel and arrived soon after. They had been told there was a drowning at the hotel but when they entered the room, they believed, due to the disturbed state of the room, that a murder had taken place.
A postmortem revealed several bruises and abrasions around Michaela's neck and it was determined that the cause of death was asphyxiation. A plastic bag had been placed over her head. Michaela had been strangled to death.
Michaela's murder was a high profile murder case in Mauritius. When a murder occurs in a country that relies heavily on tourism, there is an urgency to have the matter resolved. And it certainly looked like the case would be solved quickly as arrests were made just one day after Michaela's murder.
Three male Mauritian employees of the Legends Hotel were arrested in connection to the murder. Avinash Treebhoowoon, Sandip Moneea and Raj Theekoy.
Charges against Raj were dropped and he agreed to testify on behalf of the Prosecution. Former hotel security guard, Dassen Narayanen, was arrested. He was charged with conspiracy to commit larceny and confessed that he have Sandip a key card to access the McAreavey's room.
Avinash and Sandip pleaded not guilty and the case went to Trial.
It was the Prosecution's case that when Michaela went back to her room that day, the 10th of January, she disturbed a burglary. When she entered the room , she found Avinash and Sandip inside and they were stealing money from her purse.
They strangled Michaela to death so that she would not be able to identify them. It was their case that, Avinash and Sandip, who were both hotel employees at the time, would have had access to a magnetic master key, and they used this to gain entry into Michaela's room. They referred to Dassen Narayanen's confession in relation to his statement that he gave them a key card.
It was the Prosecution's case that another hotel attendant, Raj Theekoy, claimed he was outside the room and heard noises "of a female in pain" and saw Avinash and Sandip leaving the room. He approached them to ask what happened and was told:
"Nothing happened, just keep quiet. If you say anything, I'll get you involved in the case."
The Court heard that one of the accused, Avinash, had confessed. He told police that Michaela caught them red handed inside her hotel room. Michaela was strangled so that she could not identify them and then placed in the bathtub in the hotel room. The tap in the bathtub was turned on to wash away any DNA evidence that may be on Michaela's body.
The Court also heard from the the Chief Security Officer of the hotel, Mohammad Mehtaz Imrit, who said there was a recording that the door of room 1025 was opened by someone using a supervisor card. This took place on at 2.42pm on the 10th of January.
John and Michaela McAreavey
It was the Defense's case that both Avinash and Sandip had been set up and both of them were innocent.
It was their case that the police investigation was sloppy. They argued that a number of basic tests and checks were not carried out and some of the tests were only carried out after the room had been released back to the control of the hotel and as such the evidence was compromised. The Hotel was not sealed off after Michaela's body had been found and guests, some who stayed in the bedrooms beside Michaela's room, were not interviewed or spoken to by the police. A senior officer at the MCIT admitted that they failed to interview a number of guests at the hotel who were staying close to room 1025.
The Defense also argued that no DNA was found that indicated their clients were guilty and further argued that a number of items that should have been tested for DNA had not been tested. The purse that the accused men were allegedly stealing from wasn't fingerprinted or sent for DNA testing.
Samples from a number of items recovered from the crime scene and swabs from Michaela were sent to Cellmark Forensic Services in the UK for specialist DNA tests. Cellmark expert Susan Woodroffe told the Court that no matches with Avinash and Sandip were identified. However , she did identify a potential match with Sandip on a key card for the room and a possible DNA match for Sandip on a cupboard in the room. She told the Court that police had not taken sufficient precautions to prevent the contamination of samples and the crime scene.
John and Michaela McAreavey
The Defense argued that a bikini top found on Michaela should have also been sent to Cellmark as it had traces of blood on it.
Akiza Mooradun from the Mauritian forensic science services told the Court that she carried out tests on swabs taken from Michaela’s neck. The results produced a genetic match that was likely to be Michaelas.
Unidentified fingerprints and palm prints were found in the room.
It was the Defense's case that the confessions given in relation to Michaela's murder were only given under duress. Dassen Narayanen, who claimed he gave Sandip the key card, retracted the confession. He claimed he was forced to make a confession by police. He was held at gunpoint.The police denied this.
In relation to Avinash's confession, he also retracted it. He claimed that despite signing it with his lawyer present, he was forced to sign it due to police brutality. The Defense alleged that he was beaten by the police and forced to make a confession due to the torture he had to endure at the hands of the police. He claimed the torture included water torture which caused him to vomit blood. He also said that none of the statement was read back to him and he signed the document that was put in front of him. He did not know the full details. He claimed that police told him that his wife would be deported and made live in Ireland with John McAreavey unless he confessed.
The Court also heard that all photos of the crime scene were taken only in black and white. A number of items that the Defense deemed were relevant items were not photographed. The Court also heard that the dark chocolate Kit Kats that Michaela went back to the room to get had allegedly been moved in the days after her murder.
Govinden Saminaden testified at the Trial. Govinden worked as a room attendant at the Legends Hotel. He claimed that he had also been forced to give a false statement by police. But he wanted to retract his statement. He told the Court that he was with Sandip when Michaela was murdered in room 1009 which is some distance from room 1025. They were there between 2.40pm and 3pm. He told the Court:
“Sandip blamed me for having improperly cleaned the room 1008. He then asked me to repeat the cleaning. Then I took care of the chamber 1009 where a VIP client was expected. He told me the floor was not clean and took the brush to show me how to clean it. And he was always with me.”
The Defense raised the issue that there may have been a sexual element to the crime and indicated that John may have been involved. They referred to a sex guide that was found in the hotel room. However it transpired that the sex guide was just an insert from the woman’s magazine Cosmopolitan. Michaela purchased the magazine at the airport.
It was a case that was supposed to last just two weeks but lasted almost eight weeks. The Jury deliberated for just two hours and found Sandip and Avinash not guilty.
After the not guilty verdicts, a new investigation was launched but nothing of significance was found. An elite task force was set up in 2017 to investigate further. A review was ordered in August 2020 but according to authorities no new evidence was found that warranted a reopening of the case of a retrial. The investigation was officially closed in 2020.
Despite the fact that there has been no justice for Michaela or her family, her family have acted with restraint and grace as they continue to fight to get some answers and justice. They have had to endure attacks on them by the media in Mauritius and photographs of Michaela's body and the injuries she sustained were published without their consent.
Michaela was a much loved member of the Harte family. She was the only daughter of Marian and Mickey Harte and had three brothers.
Mickey Harte told the Irish Daily Mirror that he cannot find hatred for the men who killed Michaela:
"I’ve tried to conjure up those feelings but they just won’t come. There is no hatred inside me for them or anyone else. And I honestly think that Michaela is right by my side keeping me calm."
John has since remarried.
The Lux Hotel
John and Michaela's family sued the Legends Hotel for €1.6m after the Trial. They reached an out of court financial settlement and the details of that settlement have not been made public. The hotel has been renamed and is now the Lux Hotel.
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