The widower of murdered honeymooner Michaela McAreavey has said his life ended the day he found her dead in their hotel room in Mauritius.
Fighting back tears, John McAreavey told the trial of two men accused of her murder that he fell to his knees and prayed after he frantically tried to revive his “wonderful, wonderful” wife.
During an emotional testimony at the Supreme Court in the Mauritian capital Port Louis, he revealed police originally suspected him of strangling his bride and told him he faced a long stretch in jail if he did not co-operate.
The 27-year-old accountant from Co Down, Northern Ireland, said he was handcuffed and left alone for more than five hours in a police station, claiming one officer told him: “What are you crying about? You’re young, you’ll get another wife.”
The daughter of Tyrone Gaelic football boss Mickey Harte was found dead in the bath of her room at the luxury Legends Hotel last January.
The prosecution claim hotel employees Sandip Moneea and Avinash Treebhoowoon murdered the 27-year-old teacher when she returned to the room at the exclusive beachside complex and caught them stealing.
Former room attendant Treebhoowoon, 31, from Plaine des Roches, and floor supervisor Moneea, 42, from Petit Raffray, deny murdering Irish language and religious education teacher Mrs McAreavey, from Ballygawley, Co Tyrone.
Appearing as a prosecution witness, Mr McAreavey was asked by a state lawyer to recall the events of the day.
“Well it was the day that my wife was murdered, that her life was ended and my life was ended,” he said.
Moments earlier he looked directly at both accused as he passed them in the dock on his way to the witness box.
He said: “Everything was finished on that day, everything was destroyed. Our dreams were destroyed.”
Mr McAreavey described how he and his wife had lunch by a pool before she left him to make the short trip back to their room to get biscuits.
He said he had offered to go but, because he had done so for her the night before, she told him it was okay.
“I assume she didn’t want me running round the whole time but I obviously wish she had let me go to the room,” he said.
Around 45 minutes later, having asked a bellboy to let him into his room, he told the court how he walked in to see his wife floating in the bath as cold water poured from the tap.
He told the court he grabbed her, lay her on the floor and screamed for help.
“Michaela was cold,” he said, his voice halting.
“And her lips were blue and I kept on just saying ‘Michaela, Michaela, wake up, come on, come on’.
“Then I could see this mark on her neck. I didn’t know what was going on, I didn’t know what was going on. I was grabbing her and trying to press on her chest and trying to attempt CPR. I don’t even know CPR.
“I was just holding her in my arms, telling her to come on, just to wake up.”
The hotel manager and a male nurse soon arrived and commenced mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, he said.
“I was down on my hands and knees, I was praying, I couldn’t understand what was happening, I kept going into and out of the room,” Mr McAreavey said.
He said he could hardly breathe when he saw they had stopped attempting to revive her.
“At some stage the doctor came into the room and in my head I wanted him to have a defibrillator on him to put the defibrillator on Michaela and give her an electric shock.
“I was grabbing him and said put the defibrillator on her and then he said – ‘what do you want me to do, she’s dead’.
“I just collapsed on the bed, I was like a very hysterical child crying grabbing everything on the bed and lying there just completely distraught and then at that stage I think someone must have brought me out of the room,” he told the court.
Wearing a grey suit, white shirt and navy blue tie as he stood in the witness box, occasionally drinking water from a bottle, Mr McAreavey revealed how a short time later he was taken away by police.
He said four officers drove him from the hotel in a jeep.
“They could see I was in obvious pain,” he told a packed courtroom.
“I distinctly remember the policeman on the left of me saying: ‘did you have an argument with your wife?’
“I could see what he was implying. I abruptly told him: ‘no, no’
“Then he asked: ‘what age are you?’ I told him I was 26.
“Then he said: ‘what are you crying for, you’re young, you’ll get another wife’.”
He added: “Further up the road they pulled in at the side of road and a couple of the policemen got out and they went to the side of road, to a fast food thing and they got themselves something to eat.”
Mr McAreavey said he was then taken to a derelict-looking police station where he was put in a room and officers took off his shirt and examined him for marks.
“I could see what was going through their minds,” he said. “They put handcuffs on me and I was sat down on a bench.”
He said one officer said to him: “We can help you but you must tell us what happened or else you could go to jail for a very long time.”
Mr McAreavey, who said he was crying and in a mental state of disarray, claimed he was then left alone.
“It was for at least five hours, I’m sure, more – actually it was late into the night.”
He told the court he was given nothing to eat or drink during this period.
The widower said he was eventually released after making a statement and returned to the hotel, where a nurse cared for him through the night.
After giving his evidence to principal state prosecutor Mehdi Manrakhan, Mr McAreavey faced cross-examination from lawyers of the accused.
Earlier in the trial, Sanjeev Teeluckdharry, representing Treebhoowoon, claimed the contents of a sex guide found in the honeymooners’ room formed the crux of his case.
But today the lawyer made no mention of it as he questioned Mr McAreavey, who on a number of occasions corrected the barrister.
He claimed that other items, such as a belt and a laptop, retrieved from the room were “extremely suspicious”.
Mr Manrakhan immediately objected to judge Mr Justice Prithviraj Fecknah: “My lord, how are those suspicious?”
The judge told Mr Teeluckdharry that he could only ask such a question if he was prepared to provide a foundation for the claim.
The lawyer declined to pose another question.
Mr Teeluckdharry had earlier challenged Mr McAreavey to explain why certain details he mentioned in court had not been included in six police statements he had given in the wake of the murder.
“I will make no excuse for not having each and every detail recorded because at that time it was not at the top of my mind,” he replied firmly.
He said he did not care “one iota” what was being put in the statements at the time.
“All my focus was on was getting my wife home, getting home to my family and to Michaela’s family,” he added.
Rama Valayden, representing Moneea, asked Mr McAreavey about his claim that he had gone to fetch biscuits for his wife the night before the murder.
Asking him to review key card records of room entry, the lawyer suggested they did not appear to fit with his recollection.
Mr Valayden put it to Mr McAreavey that if his version of events was true then the key card reader must have been wrong.
“Perhaps,” he replied.
At the outset of his testimony, Mr McAreavey spoke of his love for his wife and produced pictures of her that were passed to the jury.
“Michaela was a wonderful, wonderful person, a really special human,” he said.
“She completed my whole life.
“She was loved by her parents – she was their only daughter. She was cherished by her brothers – their only sister.
“She had so many special qualities that it would be impossible for me to fully explain how good a person she was.”
Mr McAreavey told the court his wife was “full of life and full of happiness”.
“Anyone who had the pleasure of knowing her or meeting Michaela would give testament to that.
“I do not have the words to fully explain how much she means to me and how much she still means to me and her family.”
He added: “She was the most beautiful person I have seen. I’ve yet to see anyone prettier than Michaela.”
Mr McAreavey flew back to Mauritius ahead of the start of the trial last month but had been unable to be present at proceedings until he was called as a witness.
His sister Claire, father Brendan, and brother-in-law Mark Harte sat in the front row of the public gallery, watching his testimony.
Dozens of people stood in the aisles of the public gallery of Courtroom 5 to see him give evidence.
Despite efforts to manage Mr McAreavey’s arrival at court better than the first day of the trial, when he was jostled by crowds as he went to register as a witness, there was again some unruly behaviour as local press photographers tried to break out of a security cordon.