Mauritius: A portion of takeaway food can seldom have attracted as much focus at a murder trial.
Especially one with absolutely no direct link to the crime.
But barrister Ravi Rutnah's alleged consumption of a police officer's carton of fried rice was centre-stage again for a time on day nine of the Michaela McAreavey case.
The claim that he accepted the food from chief inspector Luciano Gerard was part of the reason the outspoken defence lawyer dramatically withdrew from the trial earlier in the week.
Mr Gerard's recollection of the encounter at his office, along with his allegation that Mr Rutnah was more than an hour late arriving for that meeting with accused Avinash Treebhoowoon, amounted, the advocate insisted, to an accusatory attack on his reputation.
With Mr Rutnah gone but not forgotten, his colleague, Sanjeev Teeluckdharry, took on the task of getting to the bottom of fried rice-gate.
The senior defence counsel first probed the officer's claim that he did not care much for the dish. This, he insisted, did not quite tally if his men had gone out and bought him some.
"Officers went to buy fried rice even though you don't like fried rice?" he queried.
Senior prosecution counsel Mehdi Manrakhan did not quite see it like that.
"He didn't say that," he interjected vociferously.
"He didn't say his officers brought him fried rice even though he doesn't like fried rice."
On advice from the judge Prithjviraj Fecknah, Mr Teeluckdharry took another approach.
"You said your officers brought fried rice for you and Coca-Cola. You said to court you gave your fried rice to Mr Rutnah. Can you tell the court at what time that would be?"
The officer replied, noting the time the lawyer arrived at the major crime investigation team (MCIT) offices in Port Louis: "It must be around 20:33."
The barrister continued: "If I understand correctly, you welcomed him with fried rice and Coca-Cola at the offices of the MCIT?"
Mr Gerard said he would not have quite described it as a welcome: "But whilst we were sitting in the room, in the video room, at one point in time Mr Rutnah said he had not had his dinner yet so I gave him my takeaway."
Mr Teeluckdharry wanted confirmation, knowing he had something up his sleeve.
"You gave your fried rice to Mr Rutnah?"
The policeman replied: "Yes, I am adamant about that."
The tenacious defence counsel then produced his trump card: a statement from Mr Gerard's superior, superintendent Yoosoof Soopun, in which he claimed it was actually him who donated rice to a hungry Mr Rutnah.
"Mr Soopun said he gave fried rice to Mr Ravi Rutnah, and not on the 12th but on 13th January."
This was one occasion when Mr Gerard appeared to have no problem contradicting his boss.
"If Mr Soopun had given a statement that it was on the 13th I will say that Mr Soopun has made a error. I am totally sure about that."
The lawyer hit back: "My instructions are, neither your version or the version of Mr Soopun are correct."
Mr Gerard stood by his story: "I would say my version was correct because it was my takeaway. And I gave it to Mr Rutnah."
Mr Teeluckdharry insisted he was incorrect and went further, claiming the whole thing had been made up in an attempt to force Mr Rutnah to step aside. He said: "These are allegations and a below-the-belt attack on a legal representative."
Mr Manrakhan reacted with incredulity: "What allegations? Giving someone your fried rice is not an allegation? Below the belt?"
Judge Fecknah said his view was that the rice was only part of the defence's claim against the officer.
If the prosecutor was infuriated, he was not as vexed as Mr Teeluckdharry who effectively challenged him to either put up or shut up.
He warned: "Either my friend objects to my question or he walks out of the courtroom."
Police admit lapses
Police failed to interview a series of potential witnesses in the aftermath of Michaela McAreavey's murder, a senior officer admitted in court.
Detectives did not take statements from a number of fellow guests at the luxury Legends Hotel in Mauritius who were staying close to the room where the tragic honeymooner was strangled, the trial of two men accused of the murder heard.
The chief inspector who led the investigation also told the jury at the Supreme Court in Port Louis that hotel CCTV footage was not used to establish where certain suspects had been during the day of the crime - with only the movements of Mrs McAreavey's husband John fully traced.
Questioned by a lawyer for Sandip Moneea, one of the two Legends employees accused of the murder, Chief Inspector Luciano Gerard conceded he did not know that two garments - a bikini top and belt - had been found at the crime scene when police finally handed control of room 1025 back to the hotel two weeks later.
Moneea, 42, and Avinash Treebhoowoon, 31, both deny murdering the daughter of Tyrone gaelic football boss Mickey Harte last January.
Earlier, Mr Gerard rejected a claim that he denied Treebhoowoon his constitutional rights by interrogating him without a lawyer present. The hotel cleaner confessed to the murder but has since insisted the admission was beaten out of him.
His lawyer, Sanjeev Teeluckdharry, accused police of mixing together various previous statements to produce the confession and then forcing his client to sign it. Mr Gerard insisted Treebhoowoon signed it voluntarily.
Mr Teeluckdharry also defended the length of time - almost six hours - he took to cross-examine the police officer.
"I understand the time frame but my client could be sent to hell for 60 years and I will need to take as long I need to take," he said.
A Legends employee who claims he heard cries from room 1025 and then saw the two defendants emerge was poised to take the witness stand today.
But just after Raj Theekoy entered court, judge Mr Justice Prithviraj Fecknah decided it was too late in the day to embark on fresh testimony and told him to return on Monday.
Mr Theekoy was originally a suspect in the case but has since had a conspiracy to murder charge against him dropped.
After Mr Teeluckdharry's examination was finally completed, Moneea's barrister Rama Valayden took his turn to question Mr Gerard.
The officer, who confirmed he had not interviewed Moneea at any stage, faced a number of taxing questions about the police's handling of the wider investigation.
Mr Valayden listed the occupants of the rooms near the murder scene in the hotel's deluxe block one by one - 1021, 1023, 1029, 1123, 1126.
Each time the officer responded "no" when asked was a statement taken from the guests.
Mr Valayden then turned to a husband and wife who had just booked into room 1125.
"Do you know there was also a German couple, Mr and Mrs Marcus Schaer, who arrived at the hotel on January 10th around noon," he asked.
"They were in room 1125 and following what happened in room 1025 on 10th January asked to move to another room."
The lawyer claimed the couple had wanted to make a statement but were not facilitated because they could not speak English or French.
Mr Valayden said they wanted to report "something they had seen."
Mr Gerard said he had no knowledge of it.
"None of my officers told me of this," he said.
Mr Valayden then named two medics who attended to Mrs McAreavey after she was found and two shop assistants who had been working close by.
The officer said he had not heard the names before and did not know if statements had been taken from them.
He conceded that a security guard working at the front gates of the hotel was also not asked to provide records of all people leaving and entering the hotel on the day.
The prosecution claims the defendants strangled the 27-year-old teacher when she caught them red-handed stealing from her room, having momentarily left her husband at the pool to fetch biscuits for her tea.
The Co Tyrone woman's father-in-law Brendan McAreavey and sister-in-law Claire McAreavey were in court to hear the exchanges.
Her widower John remains elsewhere on the island, unable to attend proceedings until he is called as a prosecution witness.
Mr Valayden told the court that there were five cameras in and around the scene of the crime. He asked did police review the footage from noon to midnight from all cameras - 60 hours' worth.
Mr Gerard said he did not do it personally but two other officers were given the task.
But when asked if the movements of certain suspects, including Moneea, were retraced on camera throughout the day, the officer said no.
"Did you do it for John McAreavey," the lawyer added.
"Yes, they have done it for him," the policeman replied.
Explaining why the movements of suspects had not be compiled, Mr Gerard said: "The whole deluxe quarter is not covered by CCTV."
The lawyer then turned to the swipe cards used to access the room.
He asked the chief inspector did he know that the only cards found in the room were blue and white in colour while the McAreaveys had been issued golden "all inclusive" cards.
"I don't know, I cannot say," Mr Gerard responded.
Mr Valayden said the cards expired after one month - with the cards in question set to be wiped on January 15.
"So the cards were not checked," he claimed.
In regard to the card readers on the room doors, the officer said only 1025 was examined on the day of the murder.
He said others were checked in later days but he was not sure when.
While there were records for 198 rooms in the hotel, Mr Gerard said only those in the deluxe block were examined.
"As far as I am aware we only checked block deluxe," he said.
The room was handed back to the control of the hotel two weeks after the murder.
Mr Valayden confronted the policeman with claims that staff found two items of clothing when they were allowed back in.
One was a red bikini top discovered under a wardrobe.
"There was also a multi-coloured belt - red, yellow and green like colours of rainbow - found," he said.
"It was secured by security officers at the hotel."
Mr Gerard said he was not aware of it.
"No, they have not produced it to police," he insisted.
Mr Valayden asked the officer did he know that five finger and palm prints had been found in the room that did not belong to any of the men originally quizzed about the crime, including the two accused, or from Mr and Mrs McAreavey.
The officer confirmed he knew of their existence.