Belfast Telegraph

Friday 18 April 2014

Michaela honeymoon murder: CCTV images ruled irrelevant

CCTV footage allegedly showing Michaela Harte and John McAreavey arguing

A German chef found himself unexpectedly thrust into centre stage at the Michaela McAreavey trial when a controversial CCTV image was produced as evidence.

The grainy clip capturing a couple apparently embroiled in a row at the reception of the Legends hotel triggered feverish speculation in Mauritius when defence lawyers claimed it was the Co Tyrone teacher and her husband John.

But according to the prosecution, it was one of a number of "grotesque" attempts by the defence to point the finger at the widower.

Captured around 15 minutes after the state claimed she had been murdered in her hotel room, if the guests had been the McAreaveys the footage could have obliterated the case against the accused without any other evidence having to be produced.

With one Mauritian media outlet having flouted reporting restrictions and published the clip before it was even played to the jury - a move that prompted a contempt of court motion by the prosecution and a severe warning from the judge - it was no surprise huge crowds arrived to see the image officially broadcast on the 19th day of the trial.

But in the event the most hotly anticipated morning of the case at the Supreme Court in Port Louis did not turn out as many crammed into the public gallery thought it might.

After the three-minute clip was played, Assistant Commissioner of Police Yoosoof Soopun calmly informed the defence barrister who had produced it as evidence - Rama Valayden - he was 100% sure it was not the McAreaveys.

He went further.

The police chief said he had evidence that the couple were actually German holidaymakers Harald Hoyer and Savarese Graziella.

It appeared the defence team had been rocked by the officer's testimony.

The court rose for the day with judge Prithviraj Fecknah insisting the identity of the couple had still not been fully proved. More CCTV was to be played at the start of the fifth week in a bid to resolve the issue.

But no further footage was required.

If Mr Soopun's evidence had stuck a spoke in the wheels of the defence contention, they fell off altogether over that coming weekend.

Mr Hoyer and Ms Graziella had suddenly become the most sought after Germans in the Indian Ocean.

It was not long before he was tracked down to his home city of Munich where he worked as a chef.

And he was as sure as Mr Soopun - the couple pictured were definitely him and his now ex-girlfriend, Ms Graziella.

The cook said he would fly to Mauritius to testify to that fact if needed.

Not informed of Mr Hoyer's intervention, jurors who arrived at court on the Monday expecting to see further security camera pictures were instead informed by the judge that there had been a "development".

"It was the contention of the defence that the couple that was seen on the footage was the McAreaveys," he said.

"On the other hand the prosecution contends this was a German couple and you have heard the testimony of police witness Mr Soopun who had said it was a German couple according to his inquiry.

"I have now to inform you that counsel for accused number one Mr (Sanjeev) Teeluckdharry and for accused number two Mr Valayden have stated they are not pressing on this issue concerning the identity of this couple.'

Mr Teeluckdharry told the jurors the footage was not clear enough for him to identify the couple while, Mr Valayden said his decision was based on "new information".

Justice Fecknah said the identity of the couple was no longer an issue for the jury's deliberation.

"As far as you are concerned as members of the jury you need not delve any further into this aspect of the evidence," he said.

In his closing address, principal state counsel Mehdi Manrakhan said the CCTV claim was one of a number of bids by the defence to wrongfully foist blame on to Mr McAreavey.

He said all the theories were short-lived and quickly abandoned after it was clear they had no foundation.

But the lawyer expressed concern that the "unbefitting" episodes had served to confuse the minds of the jurors.

"If anything, they were very insulting to John and his family and to the memory of Michaela," he added.

"The person who suffered the most in all this, as if he had not suffered enough after the death of the love of his life, Michaela, was undoubtedly John James McAreavey."

In regard to the CCTV, what the defence believed had the potential to blow the state case out of the water actually fizzled out with hardly a pop.



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