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Son of woman killed in Sliema house collapse talks of 20-year wait for justice

Paul Vella with his family.

The son of a woman who died in a Sliema house collapse 20 years ago is relieved, as a court of appeals finally brought closure to a long and dark chapter for his family.

“I am relieved, but I don’t know if we can consider this justice. Twenty years going in and out of court is torture. And now with this final step, the appeal, we’d feared that it could all be squashed down,” Paul Vella told The Shift.

Paul Vella’s mother, Rita, died when her house collapsed during excavation works behind her home. Later, the criminal court had issued a €4,000 fine to the contractors, who were convicted of gross negligence for failing to keep a safe distance between Vella’s house and the site they were excavating.

The architect, also on trial, was found not guilty, because he said he was not informed that the excavation works had begun.

Now, however, in a final ruling, the court of appeals ordered the contractors and architect to pay more than €67,000 in damages.

Justice delayed

“Why should anyone wait 20 years in a clear cut case? The courts are clearly not functioning properly. I’ve said it before, the court in Malta seem to work in favour of the accused. We literally take innocent until proven guilty to the next level.”

Clearly frustrated, Vella recalled how the family lost an entire year when their court hearing was delayed five times.

“I remember, one time we left for a hearing at 9am. At 10am we walked into the court room. The magistrate came in at 11am and her phone started ringing. She picked it up and left the courtroom. At 12pm she came back and moved the sitting for another date, because she said she had a migraine,” said Vella.

On countless occasions Vella and his family would go to Valletta, only to hear what eventually became an oddly familiar tune, “court session deferred”.

“I can’t remember how many times one of their lawyer just didn’t show up and it was cancelled. It’s disgusting,” added Vella.

Writing on Facebook, Vella posted that contractors, developers and workers cannot be trusted. “If you see danger, walk out of your property,” he warned.

Similar to the Vella tragedy, in March 2020 a house in Hamrun collapsed, claiming the life of Miriam Pace, a 54-year old mother of two. The Pace house collapsed while excavations were being carried out adjacent to her home.

More recently, on Thursday morning, the construction industry claimed another victim. This time, a worker from Gambia died after a wall inside a construction site in Cospicua collapsed. A Maltese national was also seriously injured.

Moviment Graffiti said the sweet talk after Miriam Pace’s tragic death was not followed up by action from the authorities: “This inaction is the result of hidden interests at play.”

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