“The court would like to make it absolutely clear from the start that it is not at all pleased with the way the investigation was conducted”. Magistrate Joseph Mifsud handed out judgement on the three Labour heavies who were accused of holding journalists against their will in Joseph Muscat’s Castille in November 2019.
The magistrate was compelled to let the three off the hook. Not because they hadn’t committed the crime but because the police investigation was so thoroughly deficient that the Magistrate had no other option.
The Magistrate lashed out at the prosecution in what amounts to an indictment of a failed police force still under the thumb of its political masters. Coming from Magistrate Joseph Mifsud, who in a previous life, was a Labour Party official and broadcaster, the condemnation cannot be discredited.
In his detailed 46 page judgement, the Magistrate draws up a long list of banal deficiencies committed by the prosecution.
The police report lodged by Monique Agius and Miguela Angela Xuereb who were held against their will, was not even exhibited in court. The prosecution presented no report entered into the PIRS (Police Incident reporting system).
The other two journalists detained in Castille, Julian Bonnici and Paul Caruana Galizia, were not even contacted by the police. No statements were taken from these key witnesses.
Although the Court noted that “there were at least nine people” on the film submitted by Monique Agius, the prosecution decided to indict only three. The film submitted directly contradicted the evidence given by Inspector Daryl Borg according to the Magistrate.
Paul Caruana Galizia had identified at least four other persons to the Commissioner for Standards on 9th December 2020. None of these were brought before the court.
Magistrate Mifsud also commented that “no attempt was made to identify who locked the door”. Inspector Daryl Borg confirmed that the police did not even speak to any of the organisers of the press conference or anybody else present on the night for that matter. Although there were between 20 and 50 journalists detained, their version of events was not even sought.
What the three accused were actually doing in Castille that night remained unclear according to the judgement. Again the police had failed to determine what the role of the three Labour heavies was – or who had tasked them (inkarighom) to be there.
The Office of the Prime Minister had refused to reply to questions from the media about who these people were, what they were doing and on whose orders.
What is known is that the three form part of a Labour Party group of counting hall officials. Jody Pisani is Jose’ Herrera’s canvasser who worked with Protection Services Ltd, owned by his brother Jason and which was given a €19,000 direct order by Minister Herrera to provide personal security for him and his family. Emanuel McKay was described as frequently seen with Chris Cardona.
Although it took the police over seven months to bring charges, so little evidence was presented that only three court sessions were required before the case was concluded.
The magistrate was positively apoplectic. He quoted the OSCE Safety of Journalists guidebook in his judgement. “Violence, harassment and intimidation directed against journalists represent an attack on democracy itself”.
He went further. “The conduct of investigations into crimes of violence against journalists must be conducted promptly, impartially, effectively and with professionalism”. So let us just assess the prosecution’s performance against those standards.
The investigation took over seven months – not quite “promptly” then. “Effective” it definitely was not. “Impartial”, less so having picked the three out of the nine “highly selectively”. And as regards “with professionalism”, the prosecution couldn’t be less professional if it tried.
The abysmal failure of the police in this case is not an isolated one. Almost on the same day an Arriva bus driver accused of fraudulently cancelling tickets to pocket the fares was let off the hook. The prosecution presented documents from 2011 when the alleged crime occurred between 2012 and 2013. The police also failed to present bus CCTV footage showing the accused cancelling tickets as evidence.
The police failure to test cocaine found in the possession of a man accused of drug trafficking led to his release. That man had previously been a client of our Prime minister Robert Abela. The Attorney General failed to lodge an appeal in this shocking case.
The latest acquittal of the three men who held journalists against their will at the Prime Minister’s office is no surprise. It is only the latest in a string of police fiascos.
Magistrate Mifsud declared the investigation of the three men totally unsatisfactory – indeed it is absolutely scandalous. There are only three possible explanations for this – the police is grossly incompetent, criminally negligent or politically subservient.
In a healthy democracy, the stinging rebuke of the prosecution by the Court would trigger a thorough investigation and rapid and radical changes to prevent a repeat of the debacle. Those responsible would be investigated and disciplined. When the case is linked so closely to the seat of power it would trigger a public inquiry. Indeed public protests would probably bring the country to a halt.
In Malta, it will simply be swept under the carpet. Repeated platitudes from the new commissioner of police will fail to win the trust and respect of the public.
The gross incompetence, shambolic sloppiness and wilful ineptitude of the police force will continue to erode the public confidence and endanger our security. The police commissioner’s inaction and silence in the face of such a damning judgement demonstrate that nothing has changed.
The police force remains a tool in the hands of the government. It remains a weapon in the government’s “attack on democracy itself”.