Six years after his death, family of teenage workplace victim Matthew Bartolo still awaits justice

Case surrounding workplace death of 17-year-old in 2015 delayed repeatedly

 

Six years after the workplace death of a teenager in a furniture factory, his family is still waiting for justice, as complicated court procedures and prosecution decisions have combined to delay progress in this tragic case.

The lawyer for the family of Matthew Bartolo, the 17-year-old who died in an accident involving a woodworking machine at Construct Furniture in 2015, told The Shift that since the pending criminal case against Construct Furniture was opened, “every administrative hiccup that one can imagine has occurred”.

Since Bartolo died in the accident, the criminal case against the directorship of Construct Furniture has been under the domain of four magistrates, with the state prosecutor’s decision to suddenly bring up last-minute accusations against one of the operators who was in the factory when the accident occurred, halting the case against the executives of the company.

The criminal case, which began two years after Bartolo’s death, was opened against the director of the company, John Agius, his daughter, Amanda Cefai, who was running the factory, and her husband James who was working as the foreman. The police had charged all three with involuntary homicide due to a failure to properly abide by health and safety regulations.

“The case had begun being heard by magistrate Stafrace Zammit at a very fast pace. What happened was that in what was supposedly one of the last sittings, the prosecution summoned a witness named Peter Blundell,” Kris Busietta, lawyer for the Bartolo family, told The Shift.

“Blundell was the company’s operator who was overseeing the woodworking machine when Bartolo died. He was supposed to be the last witness of the prosecution; when he was put on the witness stand in court, Blundell’s lawyer asked whether the prosecution intended on taking criminal action,” Busietta added, confirming that Blundell had not testified and that the police had decided to take Blundell to court as well.

This had led to another case, against Blundell, being opened, a few days after what was supposed to be the prosecution’s last witness in the criminal case against the directors of the company. This was a year and a half after the case against Agius and his family was opened.

“His case was assigned to the magistrate who, at the time, oversaw cases related to health and safety, Astrid May Grima. Because of that, the case in front of magistrate Stafrace Zammit was stopped until Blundell’s case began and will be paused until it is finished,” Busietta explained.

“The case against Blundell, which took about six to eight months to begin, finally began when magistrate Astrid May Grima took over the case. When we got towards the end of that case, we got a reshuffle in court,” he added, explaining that the reshuffle was a routine court procedure in which magistrates swapped duties relating to specific remits they were assigned.

As a result of this reshuffle, the case was once more halted so it could be transferred from May Grima to another magistrate, Elaine Mercieca.

However, Mercieca later recused herself from the case since she was previously involved in the prosecution against the company’s executives when she was working in the office of the attorney general. The case was finally reassigned once more to another magistrate, Yana Micallef Stafrace, with the next sitting occurring in November of this year.

When asked about what the family feels about these delays, Busietta simply said that “they are tired and they need closure”, six years after their teenage son died at work.

“While the Blundell case is drawing to a close, there still is the possibility of further delays, like the time that needs to be spent by the magistrate to decide on the sentence to be meted or the police or Blundell’s lawyers appealing any rulings taken,” Busietta said.

The lawyer explained that the family was still unsure as to why the police took so long to bring Blundell up as a witness, stating that this could have been done in conjunction with charges that were brought against the company’s executives.

“Had they arraigned both Blundell and the directors in one go, the Bartolo family would not have had to wait for all this time. While there was progress on the case, justice is still out of reach,” Busietta added.

“The Bartolo family is nowhere near closure, because of all of this. They are frustrated, and yet they come to court for every single sitting, both Matthew’s father and his mother, and they need closure,” the lawyer said.

Construct Furniture’s links to Labour

Construct Furniture is a frequent recipient of government direct orders and tenders. The company has regularly been mentioned in The Shift’s articles about regular abuse of public procurement regulations through the assignment of direct contracts. Disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat had even participated in a commercial promoting the company, a year after Bartolo was killed.

A still from the video featuring Construct Furniture and Joseph Muscat.

One example of Construct Furniture’s links with the government includes the significant amount of contracts they have received through one of the companies they have ownership in, Bava Holdings.

Bava was one of the companies contracted by the CEO of Sports Malta, Chris Bonett, throughout the building of the €7 million shooting range project at Ta’ Kandja. The cost of the project ended up doubling, with €13 out of the final €14 million price tag being distributed through direct orders.

Construct Furniture are also frequently contracted for the furnishing of new government offices, with one example being a €31,000 contract to furnish new offices relating to Infrastructure Malta. Despite Construct Furniture operating largely in the furnishing industry, they were also somehow involved in the €35 million Kappara junction project. The contract was awarded to SJ Kappara KV, a consortium in which Construct Furniture is one of the partners.

                           
                               
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alfred zammit
alfred zammit
1 month ago

is there a need to comment? a great example of this government’s impunity system.

carlo
carlo
1 month ago
Reply to  alfred zammit

Il-hawsla trid tkompli tinfatam.

doreen
doreen
1 month ago
Reply to  alfred zammit

jaqq!!! RIP Angel. may justice prevail

Theresa Galea
Theresa Galea
1 month ago

And besides, i often wonder about the coincidence of the covid testing centre in luqa being located near or on the grounds of construct furniture .. were they paid for this, I wonder, someone should ask some questions

Gee Mike
Gee Mike
1 month ago

Untouchables!

saviour mamo
saviour mamo
1 month ago

Like Construct Furniture there are many other businesses linked to Labour. Now is the time to show their gratitude to Labour.

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