VIDEO FOOTAGE FROM CCTV taken at the reception desk of the hotel where Michaela McAreavey was murdered last year dominated proceedings at the trial of the two men accused of her murder at a court in Mauritius today.
Some of the images show a couple between 3pm and 3.02pm on 10 January 2011, the day Michaela was murdered. While the head of the Major Crimes Investigation Team (MCIT), Yusuf Soopun said he was convinced that it shows a German couple, the defence did not share that opinion.
Presiding Judge Fekna Prithviraj said that “the issue should be debated”. The two accused men, Avinash Treebhoowoon, 32, and Sandip Moneea, 40, are charged with the murder of the Irish teacher. Both defendants have pleaded not guilty.
“I’m 100 per cent sure that the couple at the reception is not the McAreaveys,” said the assistant Soopun in court today.
Asked by Rama Valayden, counsel for the accused number two Sandip Moneea, if he could he had seen this footage before, Soopun replied only once and that he did not pay attention to the identity of the persons. It was only when the issue was raised in court yesterday that he sent his men to enquire about the matter, he told the court.
According to his information, the couple seen on the video in question at the reception of the hotel are German nationals, he told the court. The defence was not persuaded by the police version of events.
Arguments were exchanged between prosecution and the defence before the judge suspended the court for some minutes. On coming back the judge warned Soopun to be careful of his behaviour. He explained that “the outcome is still being debated.”
The witness was mainly cross-examined by Rama Valayden on threes videos, one dated January 9 and the two others on January 10, the day of the murder.
On the first footage, Soopun claimed it was first time he was watching the images and could not identify the McAreavey couple at the entrance to the spa of the hotel. However, he said two of his officers had seen it and informed him it was the Irish couple.
The second set of images projected was taken between 3.15pm and 3.16pm where the witness claims he identifies the victim’s husband, John McAreavey, going to the hotel reception at 3.15pm. He was shirtless, wearing blue shorts with flowered pattern and had a bag in his hand.
The third shot was taken a little earlier. It shows a couple arriving at the same location at 3.02pm and having a lively discussion in the presence of four receptionists of the hotel establishment. The two persons remain at the reception for a few minutes before leaving the field of view of the surveillance camera.
Cross-examined by Valayden, the witness said he was convinced, at 100 per cent, it was not the McAreavey couple.
The head of the MCIT then produced a document regarding the identity of these two people. “This is a German couple who stayed at Legends between 6 and 19 January 2011. The man on the video is Harald Hoyer and his wife Savarese Graziella” he said.
The officer also confirmed that the MCIT team went to Legends yesterday morning to query the receptionists who worked on the day of the murder.
Valayden then asked the witness if he knew that this couple seen in the video had left the hotel on 12 January 2011, two days after the murder for another hotel on the east coast of Mauritius, Le Beau Rivage. To this, Soopun argued that according to his information, Harald Hoyer and Savarese Graziella had left the hotel on 19 January 2011.
Sandip Moneea’s lawyer then asked the officer if he was able to produce recordings of video surveillance images of 12 January 2011. To which he replied it would only be possible on Monday.
In view of the impossibility to continue cross examination of the witness and in order to have more elements to establish the correct identity of the persons seen on the third footage, the judge asked technical staff if they you could enlarge a portion of the image and obtain a better resolution on a 55-inch LED screen.
Sanjeev Teeluckdharry, counsel for the accused number one, Avinash Treebhowon, for his part, suggested that the videos are converted to Blu-Ray version to better see the faces of the couple.
The use of better technological means and other footage requested by the defence pushed the judge to adjourn court proceedings.
The trial will continue on Monday.