When Michaela Harte and John McAreavey stepped off their plane in Mauritius eight days ago, a sign reading "Welcome to Paradise" greeted them.
As John prepares to bury his beautiful wife tomorrow, the paradise island has become a living nightmare that shows no sign of ending.
In anyone's language the murder of Michaela is an unbearable tragedy. To lose your bride of just 11 days over 10,000 kilometres from home is horrific.
But when the alleged perpetrators are staff members from the five-star resort where you were on honeymoon must be especially difficult to take.
Last week the Sunday Tribune was the only Irish newspaper allowed access to the heavily fortified Legends hotel at Grand Gaube.
To get permission to stay was a major struggle. The hotel, conscious of the public relations nightmare, operated a blanket ban on new guests and cancelled all bookings from Ireland to keep journalists out.
After we refused to leave during a six- hour stand-off we were eventually allowed to stay – on condition we be accompanied by a hotel security guard at all times.
What followed was a unique insight into a tragedy that has shocked both Mauritius and Ireland and has thrown up rumour, innuendo, farce, suspicion and provoked more questions than answers.
This weekend, 29-year-old room attendant Avinash Treebhowon and Sandip Moneea, a 41-year-old room-cleaning supervisor, are accused of the murder of Michaela McAreavey, while 33-year-old Raj Theekay, a room attendant, is accused of conspiracy to murder because he did not intervene as she was being attacked.
About 430 staff work at the hotel and 350 guests were present when she was murdered last Monday. Michaela was strangled in her room, the most isolated part of the hotel estate, a good six minutes' walk from the main reception area.
To experienced observers of murder scenes the slaying looked like a classic whodunit, yet within the first 24 hours the local police were saying they had the case solved in a remarkable feat of detective work.
The police theory is that Avinash Treebhowon, who was responsible for cleaning the room, had noticed the couple had left several valuables in open view during the first two days of their holiday.
Last Monday at 3.44pm, Michaela McAreavey, after leaving her husband at the pool bar, entered the room to get biscuits to enjoy with their afternoon tea.
Unbeknownst to her, Treebhowon had made a phone call to his supervisor Sandip Moneea and the pair had entered the room two minutes before Michaela's arrival with the intention of pilfering the room.
Investigators claim, based on Treebhowon's supposed confession, that Michaela entered the room and the two men hid behind a couch to avoid being seen. Panic then set in.
As the religion teacher was in the process of picking up the biscuits she was approached from behind by Moneea, who put his hand across her mouth and used his second hand to compress her neck until she fainted and died seconds later.
Treebhowon then filled the large plunge bath and grabbed Michaela by the ankles. The two men placed her in the tub in an amateur attempt to stage a drowning or suicide.
While the strangulation took place, Theekay allegedly passed by the room and heard Michaela's desperate screams. Instead of investigating and helping her he "lurked in the shadows" until his two colleagues came out and split up, walking in different directions. Treebhowon left with his room cleaning trolley before meeting Moneea seconds later in another section of the same block of the hotel. They stole nothing from the room.
Theekay has confessed, according to police, but Moneea has not.
Eleven minutes after his 27-year-old wife entered the hotel room John McAreavey went to see why she was taking so long. There was no answer and he did not have a key card with him so he went to the hotel reception.
The general manager, Brice Lunot, accompanied him back to the room to open the door and they made the grim discovery. Police were on the scene within minutes and a major probe was launched.
John tried to give his wife mouth-to-mouth resuscitation but she was already dead.
The three men were arrested the day after the murder when they arrived at work and have been in custody since.
With a population of just 1.3 million, there are almost 11,000 police officers in the Mauritian force, just 3,000 less than An Garda Síochána. The crime rate on the island is low.
The first 24 hours of any murder investigation are the most important in terms of gathering evidence, quizzing witnesses while their memories are fresh and generally making strides in catching the killer.
If the case isn't solved in the first day then statistically the chances of it ever being solved become more remote as each day passes.
To an outside observer, it appears that the police investigation was perfect but when it is scrutinised it looks a little too perfect.
The fact three men can be brought before a court on murder charges without any forensic evidence has raised eyebrows among gardaí monitoring events at home. They say that based upon the evidence in this case the three suspects would never have seen the inside of an Irish court.
There are also several unanswered, and disturbing questions and inconsistencies about the police probe. By the Mauritian police force's own admission, it is almost unprecedented for petty thieves to attack and murder somebody who disturbs them. This is especially true when the alleged offenders are experienced hotel staff who are respected and have never had any brushes with the law.
It is also baffling that, if the two men accused of the murder are guilty, they would have been of sound enough mind to fill a bath three-quarters full and place the body in it to stage a drowning or suicide, instead of running when the realisation of what they had done hit them.
There is confusion among different officers as to whether the water was still running when the body was found.
On Friday, detective inspector Ranjit Jokhoo told the Sunday Tribune that the two men were in Michaela and John's room for just five minutes.
When we filled a similar large plunge bath in a room close to the couple's at Legends hotel it took 11 minutes and two seconds to reach three-quarters full. The timeline just seems too tight for the suspects to have committed the murder, tried to cover their tracks and left the room, calmly going back to work.
If they were of sound enough mind to fill the bath then why didn't they steal anything from the hotel room to make the murder worth their while financially?
Legends hotel is incredibly security conscious. You cannot walk 50 yards without encountering a member of hotel security yet the police say the myriad CCTV cameras throughout the complex captured nothing of the incident or its aftermath.
To add to the confusion, the hotel issued a media release claiming there had been no security breach at its end, a strange decision considering that three of its staff were identified for the murder within 24 hours and the suspects supposedly gained entrance using a staffroom swipe card.
Senior hotel staff privately say they are frustrated with the investigation and are not convinced that the suspects are guilty, although these opinions are based upon the men's length of service and previously unquestioned character rather than any publicly unreleased facts about the murder.
And there is also the question of the conduct of the Mauritian police. Last week there were allegations that at least one of the suspects was beaten in custody and subsequently confessed. Many local people suspect the police were under so much pressure from the government to wrap up the case quickly, lest tourism be affected, that they chose three ordinary workers to scapegoat for the murder.
In 2010, there were 39 murders in Mauritius and over a third were drug-related, which are notoriously difficult to solve. The best international police forces regard a 65% murder detection rate as being a major achievement. Every one of the 39 slayings in Mauritius was successfully prosecuted. A 100% murder-detection rate is unprecedented, anywhere. Either the Mauritian police are the best in the world, and I saw nothing to convince me of that last week, or their figures are being cooked and innocent people are being framed for murders they did not commit.
The Sunday Tribune was present in the hotel when two of the suspects were brought back last Thursday for a police reconstruction of events. Each man was flanked by four police officers before being whisked away to the scene of the murder. A security perimeter was then established to keep onlookers away. The men were in tears.
Hotel staff have been told that if they speak of the murder they will be dismissed and could be arrested. A naturally friendly nation, the sense of nervousness among staff is palpable and they are visibly uncomfortable if you mention the murder. They are shocked to the core that colleagues who had long service at the hotel and were well-liked could be accused of murder.
A taxi driver employed by the hotel said that every year Legends organises a Chinese priest to come in and ensure that the feng shui on the premises is positive. Last year he predicted that somebody would be murdered in the hotel. He also said a staff member would become rich. Just one of those things has happened.
The mood of ordinary Mauritians after last week's tragedy is one of shock and anger. They are shocked that an innocent tourist was murdered on their island but are angry about subsequent events. Almost without exception the view is that the three suspects are easy targets and are being unfairly set up by a police force under massive political pressure.
Because of the nature of the judicial system – suspects can only appear in court three times before a full trial – there is a reluctant willingness to sit back and see what the forensic results will show. If the DNA evidence does not implicate the two workers suspected of carrying out the killing then in the words of one taxi driver: "We will not stand for it."
In the words of a senior manager at Legends, John was "like a ghost" when Michaela's body was discovered and was "in a trance" for the next three days.
His brother, brother-in-law and father flew to the island the day after the murder to support him and make arrangements to bring Michaela's body home. When the Sunday Tribune saw him at Legends last Thursday he was visibly shaken and very distraught, as you would expect after his horrible ordeal.
John McAreavey obviously had nothing to do with his wife's death but most ordinary people here do not accept that the three Mauritians are guilty. It prompts the question – if they were not responsible then who was, and is a killer still on the loose?
It is hard to look beyond a staff member being responsible for the murder. Legends is a luxurious hotel that is patrolled 24 hours a day by over a dozen security guards. It is a virtual fortress and you cannot get past the security gate at the front without giving your room number. You are then met by a greeter. Outsiders cannot get in and at €300 a night the clientele is well-heeled.
Most guests are remarkably calm considering what happened last week. Hotel sources say that about eight couples chose to check out following the murder, but they were moved to other hotels on the island owned by the group that operates Legends.
A couple from Co Kerry arrived last Wednesday on their honeymoon and said their travel agent had offered them alternative accommodation but they were happy to stay at Legends because it seemed safe. They were impressed by the security but noted that the outside lighting leading to the hotel rooms was very poor. The hotel had also tried to persuade them to leave, but they refused and were eventually accommodated.
Another couple from Dublin were at the hotel when the murder took place and were happy to stay there after the swift arrests.
They said they had not seen Michaela and John around the hotel during the two full days they had spent before the murder. Michaela was a dedicated pioneer so it is unlikely that the newlyweds would have been spending their time in the bar.
A source in hotel management said the McAreaveys got up each morning, had breakfast and lay by the pool before eating lunch and going back to their room for the afternoon. They would then go for dinner in the main buffet restaurant before retiring to bed early.
Sources in hotel management say they are bracing themselves for a lawsuit to be filed by John McAreavey, although this will obviously be the last thing on his mind this weekend. They acknowledge that if staff members are found guilty then they are facing a payout of several hundred thousand euro. No amount of money will bring back Michaela though.
What will happen now is unclear. The three suspects will appear in court again on Tuesday, but their trials will not take place until much later in the year. The charges filed against them are provisional and can be changed at any time. Much will depend on the results of the DNA tests taken at the murder scene.
If Michaela fought with her attacker, as police believe, then this forensic evidence will clear up the uncertainty once and for all.
If not, then the Mauritian police face a massive public relations disaster because the international spotlight on the case is not going to go away. With tourism the country's most important industry, a non-conviction must be the politicians' biggest fear because it will inevitably put people off coming to the island.
Later this year John McAreavey will have to return to Mauritius. This time his beautiful wife will not be by his side. He will be required to give evidence against the men accused of the terrible crime.
Michaela Harte was a religion teacher and a woman of great faith. She deserves justice, but there is little doubt that she would want justice and the wrath of God to fall on the right people.
Let's hope that the Mauritian legal system affords her and her family that basic right.
'I am sorry for what happened. But my husband is not involved. He is an innocent man'
The families of the men accused of the murder of new bride Michaela Harte are united in their vehement denial that their loved ones had anything to do with her tragic death.
Manisha Theekay, the 23-year-old wife of Raj Theekay who is charged with conspiracy to murder after he allegedly failed to intervene when he heard Michaela cry for help, says he was "definitely not involved".
She said that Raj had started working at Legends last September but had spent five years as a room attendant at another top hotel on the island and was very experienced and well-trusted.
"We have no idea what is going on and the police are not telling us anything. My husband is a gentle man and has never been involved in a fight with anybody in his life. The police have not been here to talk to me and we are left in the dark. I have seen Raj twice since he was arrested. He said he did nothing and is definitely not involved in the murder and I believe him. I don't know how I am going to survive with our three-year-old boy Ansh. He could not commit such a crime. We are all just shocked."
The 33-year-old worked from 8am to 4pm seven days a week for the equivalent salary of €175 a month. Manisha said she wanted to send on her thoughts to John McAreavey and everyone who knew Michaela.
"I feel very sorry for her husband. They came on honeymoon to enjoy a good time together and the whole of Mauritius is very, very sorry for what happened. But my husband is not involved in this. I know my husband and he is an innocent man."
Manisha said she did not believe Raj was being mistreated in police custody but added: "He was not beaten and is treated as well as everyone else but everyone is treated badly in jail."
The mother and father of Avinash Treebhowon, who police suspect was in the room when the teacher was strangled, also insist their son is innocent.
The 29-year-old room attendant had worked at Legends for five years and was well-liked, according to his colleagues at the hotel.
His mother Mala said: "We know nothing of why he was arrested and the police will not tell us where they are keeping him. He is being unfairly scapegoated by the police, who want to solve this tragic murder quickly. He is being treated very unfairly. We feel very sorry for what happened to that young girl. I have a daughter too and I really feel for her parents' loss and can only imagine how they feel."
Avinash's father Sooriadev has alleged the police beat his son in custody.
"He has been badly beaten and hurt to get him to confess to this crime. They slapped him and burst his eardrum and he cannot hear out of one ear now. We are lost and upset and know nothing of what is happening to our boy," he added.
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