McAreavey trial judge: Identity of CCTV couple not established beyond reasonable doubt15/06/2012 - 19:05:13
Further CCTV footage has been requested at the trial of two men accused of murdering Michaela McAreavey, in a bid to identify a mystery couple apparently rowing at the hotel where she died.
While lawyers for the defendants claim the man and woman are the Co Tyrone teacher and her husband John, a high-ranking police witness told the court he was 100% sure they were not the McAreaveys.
Assistant Commissioner of Police Yoosoof Soopun said the couple captured in a grainy security camera image at the reception of the Legends Hotel the day the honeymooner died were German holidaymakers Harald Hoyer and Savarese Graziella.
The footage was filmed just after 3pm on January 10 last year, around 15 minutes after the prosecution claim the daughter of Tyrone Gaelic football boss Mickey Harte died at the hands of two hotel employees.
Former room attendant Avinash Treebhoowoon (aged 31) and floor supervisor Sandip Moneea (aged 42) deny her murder.
Judge Mr Justice Prithviraj Fecknah said further examination of the issue was required before the identity of the couple could be confirmed.
"It hasn't been proved and established beyond reasonable doubt this is the German couple," he said.
After a request by defence barrister Rama Valayden, other CCTV footage taken from the hotel will be played to the court on Monday in an effort to resolve the issue.
The short three-minute clip from the Legends reception was played along with other security camera footage in front of a packed Supreme Court in Port Louis on the 19th day of the high profile case.
Speculation had been rife around the island as to what the footage contained and around 200 people crammed into court room five to see for themselves.
The defendants were permitted to leave the dock and sit in front of the big projector screen that had been erected at the front left of the courtroom.
The honeymooner's widower John, joined by father Brendan, sister Claire and brother-in-law Mark Harte, watched from the front row of an overflowing public gallery.
At one juncture when another clip, apparently showing Mr and Mrs McAreavey at the hotel spa the day before she died, he left the court room visibly emotional.
After the hazy images of the couple at reception were played Mr Soopun told the nine jurors he was fully satisfied it was not the McAreaveys.
"I am 100% sure that the couple found at the reception at 15.02 is not the McAreavey couple and I am able to confirm it," he said during dramatic exchanges with Mr Valayden.
"The couple have been identified and I am going to give you a name."
The police officer then read and spelt out Mr Hoyer and Ms Graziella's names.
He produced documentation to the court relating to the couple, including passport copies.
The assistant commissioner, who heads the police's major crime investigation team (MCIT), said staff working at reception believe it was the Germans in the pictures.
The court was also shown another clip from the reception area.
Taken around ten minutes after the unidentified couple leave, it shows a man walking up to the desk who Mr Soopun said was "definitely" Mr McAreavey.
This apparently is the moment the newlywed asked for a room key to access his room.
He has already told the trial he last saw his wife at a poolside restaurant in the hotel at about 2.40pm when she went back to her room to fetch biscuits.
He said he tried to get into their room half an hour later but when no one answered went to reception for help.
The timer on the CCTV was at 3.15pm when the bare-chested man strode up to reception alone. Moments later he walked away, his request having been seemingly dealt with.
A bellboy has told police he accompanied Mr McAreavey back through the hotel and opened the door of room 1025 where his 27-year-old bride was lying dead in a bath full of water.
The man in the earlier image at reception was also bare-chested but appeared to be wearing different shorts from the ones seen on the man some 10 minutes later. The footwear also appears to be different.
The woman in the first image has dark hair tied up and was wearing a white and dark coloured bikini. Mrs McAreavey was found in a bikini but had a brown skirt on top of it.
The couple appear to be engaged in a heated discussion with the woman gesticulating, holding her head in her hands and at one point looking as if she was wiping her eyes.
Yesterday the doctor who performed an autopsy on Mrs McAreavey said she died in a half hour window between 2.30 and 3pm.
Earlier the court was shown CCTV shots taken inside the spa of the hotel the previous day.
The picture quality was better and a couple, understood to be the McAreaveys, are seen talking with a staff member at the front desk.
Mr Soopun said he was not in a position to confirm the couple was definitely Mr and Mrs McAreavey.
But when the footage was played, Mr McAreavey left the court hastily, squeezing past the people standing on the fringes of the public gallery to get to the door. His sister Claire followed close behind.
They returned after a few minutes and remained in court as the rest of the CCTV footage was played.
Mr Soopun said police had taken statements from the staff members pictured behind the reception.
When pressed by Mr Valayden he said that the interviews had been conducted yesterday.
He said there was only a need to carry them out when the identity of the couple at reception became "an issue in court".
The barrister asked if he had attempted to get a statement from the German couple at the time.
"No, because I was satisfied there was obviously differences between the McAreavey couple and this German couple," he replied.
Mr Valayden went on: "You watched this footage several times, you must have had some doubt in your mind?"
The officer was adamant in response.
"No not at all," he said.
But Mr Soopun acknowledged he had never seen another photo of the German couple.
Mr Valayden said a hotel security officer was also pictured at the edge of the images.
The policeman said he was not aware of that and no statement had been taken from the individual.
He said the German couple arrived at Legends on January 6 and returned to Germany from Mauritius on January 19.
When asked by the lawyer, Mr Soopun said he had obtained the information today.
Proceedings were adjourned for a period in the late morning after Mr Valayden and chief prosecutor Mehdi Manrakhan had a heated clash over one of the defence lawyer's lines of questioning.
Judge Fecknah urged both sides to conduct matters in a more "gentlemanly" manner.
"I know this is a moment where there's a lot of tension but everybody please calm down, I don't want any further outbreaks," he said.
When court resumed, he urged Mr Soopun to slow down when presenting his answers.
The senior police officer said hotel records were not clear about the room the German couple were staying in but it appeared to be either 1008 or 1098.
In reply, Mr Valayden claimed there was no room 1098 in the hotel and it was his understanding an Italian couple were in 1008 at the time.
The policeman said he was not aware of either of the barrister's contentions.
Mr Valayden then claimed another German couple - the Zimmermanns - were staying in room 1105.
Again, the assistant commissioner said he was not aware of that.
Mr Manrakhan objected when Mr Valayden asked the witness was he aware of the conversation the pictured couple had with the receptionist.
The prosecutor said the receptionist could give her own account to court.
He asked did he know that the Germans checked out of Legends on January 12 in the wake of the murder.
Mr Soopun said he did not know that.
The lawyer then asked him to produce to court footage from the hotel reception on the January 12 that showed the couple checking out.
He had earlier asked for pictures from a beach at the hotel focusing on the 3pm to 3.30pm timeframe on the day of the murder.
Mr Soopun indicated he would not be able to source the specific clips at short notice.
As a consequence, the judge agreed to adjourn proceedings until Monday.
He asked that a wide-screen television be used for those broadcasts in a bid to achieve a clearer and brighter picture than that provided by the screen projector.
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