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John McAreavey and his traumatic return to wife Michaela's murder scene

When the Co Down man recently went back to Mauritius where Michaela Harte was murdered on honeymoon, BBC Newsline's Mark Simpson went too. He reveals how the unexpected visit came about

It is a story which began and ended in two hotels, 6,000 miles apart. It started at the Wellington Park Hotel in south Belfast, and ended at the 5-star Lux Hotel in northern Mauritius. I first met John McAreavey on a wet Wednesday in Belfast last December. Four months later, I interviewed him outside the hotel where his wife Michaela was killed.

I had a number of key questions I wanted to ask. Why was he prepared to go back to Mauritius? Why would he ever want to set foot on the island again? What had changed? All of this was discussed in Belfast on that wet Wednesday.

It was not an easy meeting. We had never met before. I got the feeling he didn't trust the media. It was just before Christmas and it was snowing outside. The atmosphere felt even colder inside.

I drank coffee, he drank tea. I had a scone, he ordered toast. We talked for an hour, and gradually the ice started to melt.

"I'm ready to speak out about what happened," he said.

"On the record?" I asked. "Yes," he said.

"On camera?" I asked. "Yes," he said.

"In Mauritius?" I asked. "Yes."

There was only one thing he insisted he did not want to do - to go back into the hotel where Michaela was murdered.

What intrigued me at that first meeting with John McAreavey was the timing of his decision to speak out.

It had been six years since the killing. Two hotel workers accused of the murder had both been found not guilty five years previously.

It appeared the investigation had run its course.

The Co Down man had recently remarried. However, it became clear that even though his circumstances had changed, he remained as determined as ever to keep fighting for justice - no matter how big a challenge that may be.

"You move forward with life, you enjoy the good things, but you don't shy away from the hard things either. You face them head on," he said.

John married Tara, an accountant from Co Kildare, in September last year. She was fully behind his decision to return to Mauritius.

"I'm very happy now and Tara is such wonderful person and amazes me because she supports me so much in this," he said.

"Anyone that loves you, and loves you in the right way, will know that they'll support you in anything that's important in your life." John arrived back in Mauritius on the first Saturday in April. With him were his sister Claire, who is a lawyer, and Mark Harte, the eldest of Michaela's three brothers.

Together they set about trying to raise the profile of the murder case, hoping it would lead to new information coming forward and the culprits being arrested and convicted. For the next five days, a BBC Newsline team followed and filmed their every move.

We were surprised how calm John was when he first arrived. In his own words, he had his "business head" on.

He treated it like a job he had to do, he hid his eyes behind his sunglasses and tried not to let his emotions get the better of him.

For the most part it worked. Only once did he crack in public.

It happened 24 hours after returning to Mauritius.

The reality of being back seemed to suddenly hit John. Along with Claire and Mark, he went on a visit to the hideaway where they had all stayed five years ago, during the trial of the two hotel workers.

It was a novitiate, a training college for Catholic priests, deep in the countryside, surrounded by a sugar cane plantation.

There was no better place to escape the glare of media attention. No-one bothered him here during the trial, apart from the mosquitoes.

But returning to this place brought back painful memories. He had flashbacks to the eight-week trial, hearing how Michaela had been killed and the daily ordeal of listening to all the evidence. It was all too much for John. He broke down.

He later admitted it had been by far the most difficult part of the entire five-day visit.

The main purpose of the return to Mauritius was to make a public appeal for help in bringing the killer or killers of Michaela to justice. A reward was announced of 50,000 Euros.

After the acquittal of the two hotel workers, Avinash Treebhoowoon and Sandip Moneea, in 2012, the Mauritian police launched a new investigation. They worked for the next four years, but without success.

The McAreavey and Harte families had given the police time and space. Now they felt they needed to get involved. That is why John, Claire and Mark decided to return to Mauritius this year and ensure the case was not forgotten.

At a news conference in the Mauritian capital Port Louis, Mark Harte stared down the barrel of a local television camera and made a direct appeal to the people.

He said: "The reality is that there are killers walking around.

"Are your families safe? Please be brave, please come forward with the truth."

Mark speaks exactly like his father Mickey Harte, the Tyrone gaelic football manager.

He does not need to shout to make himself heard. He measures every word carefully and has an air of calm authority.

It is just as well. He needed to stay calm, to prepare for what was about to happen next.

It was their final day on the island. John, Claire and Mark had booked an evening flight home, leaving enough time for a final meeting with the police in the morning, before packing up and heading to the airport.

After the police meeting, we arranged to meet them again for a last interview before they left for the airport. We went away and did some separate filming.

During the visit, we spoke to a range of people with an interest in the murder case, including the Mauritian police, a Government Minister and the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Just after 2pm in the afternoon, John phoned. Change of plan. He wanted to go back to the hotel where Michaela had been killed. I couldn't believe it. He had been adamant he would never go back.

The next few hours were among the most tense I have encountered in my 25 years in journalism, since starting at the Belfast Telegraph as a cub reporter back in 1992.

Looking at John as he travelled to the hotel, I could see he was conflicted. He kept putting his hand over his mouth, and looking down at his feet.

The hotel changed its name from Legends to Lux after Michaela's murder. The reason John, Claire and Mark decided to go was because they wanted to put across their appeal for new information directly to the hotel management. They wanted them to hear it face to face.

At the same time, John knew he was voluntarily returning to the scene of his worst nightmare.

It took an hour to get there. It felt like a week. Very little was said on the journey.

The meeting with the hotel management was supposed to be brief. It went on for well over an hour.

It was difficult, but afterwards John said he felt he had to put himself through it.

"Ultimately, I owe it to Michaela," he said.

They made their flight home on time. Just.

It is now more than a month since John, Claire and Mark returned from Mauritius. Their visit did have an impact. The police have been given some new information, but not enough yet to make any new arrests.

It is now a waiting game for the McAreavey and Harte families. They did all they could in Mauritius. It is hard to imagine what more they could have done. Yet that is not how they see it. They are determined to do more - much more. John insists he will keep going back to Mauritius, again and again, if necessary. He will not rest until he gets justice.

Next time I meet him on a wet Wednesday in Belfast, I will know what to expect.

  • Return To Mauritius, BBC1 tonight, 10.40pm.

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