The welcoming warmth of the Bartolo family’s living room, adorned with pictures of Matthew, a 17-year-old boy whose bright future was lost when he died tragically in a workplace accident in a woodworking factory six years ago, becomes heavier when his mother, Claudette, begins to speak about her son.
“Everyone loved him, he made everyone laugh wherever he went and he was never really too serious, always with a smile on his face,” Claudette told The Shift in an interview, explaining how Matthew loved the local feast, was into aeroplanes, and enjoyed learning about video editing, some of his many interests.
“He was a very happy boy,” his father, Leonard, says, adding that “he loved life”.
Since 2015, the year in which the incident which claimed Matthew’s life occurred, the Bartolo family – his parents and brother, Owen, and sister, Alayza – still “does not know exactly” what had happened in this accident. When asked about what made them change their minds about sharing their perspective in an interview after all this time, the family simply explained that they “had enough” of waiting.
Referring to the consistent delays and administrative issues they experienced in court over these six years, Leonard insists the authorities must address the length of time it takes for justice to be served.
“Instead of helping us, they are breaking us. After six years, this case should be drawing to a close, not barely beginning,” Leonard adds.
Matthew’s job at Construct Furniture was his first full-time employment; his parents explained how he had enrolled at MCAST but had found it impossible to wake up every morning at 5am to catch a bus from Kirkop to Mosta. He had instead decided to work full-time until he managed to obtain a licence to drive and had managed to save up enough money to buy his own car before going back to MCAST to learn more about his passion for video editing.
“He didn’t manage to do that though, because he was working for just five months when the incident happened, from January to June,” Leonard said.
When asked about what the first few weeks after the accident were like, Leonard and Claudette described how “terrible” going through that situation was, with both of them stating that the owners of Construct Furniture had failed to offer their condolences, a stark contrast with the support they received from friends, family members and their extended communities.
Referring to Matthew’s former employers, Leonard added: “One thing they did do was send us €2,000 the day after Matthew died to cover some of the funeral costs, which wasn’t enough to cover it.”
“They sent the money with someone who works there who happens to be a friend of our family. Our son died in this friend’s arms, in fact,” Claudette added.
While some magistrates, in particular Magistrate Zammit Stafrace, according to the family’s lawyer, did handle the case as diligently and efficiently as possible, the family finds the court delays to be unbearable.
While Leonard has, by his own admission, given up hope on the legal cases involving the accident being concluded any time soon, Claudette keeps hoping that every court sitting will bring them closer to some sort of justice for what happened to their son.
“Every time we go, we have this tiny bit of hope that something will happen and the case may move forward a bit. But then we go back a hundred steps every time; either it’s deferred, or there’s a missing document or something of that kind,” Claudette explained.
“I don’t want to sound selfish or anything, but I would expect that our case would be given some priority because this is not a minor case; we lost our son, we lost the most precious thing we could have lost,” she added.
The interview also touched upon the now infamous Christmas-time commercial disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat had shot on behalf of Construct Furniture, an advert that was aired the same year Matthew had lost his life.
“It was the same year, the same year in which Matthew died. What kind of behaviour is that? They never contacted us, never passed on their condolences. They didn’t even close down the factory, they kept going like it was nothing after they closed for a couple of days,” Claudette said with visible difficulty, adding that what hurt the most about the video was the boasting about how much of a great year Construct Furniture had in terms of revenue.
“We were angry and saddened by that. How was it a good year when they lost a 17-year-old boy? It was very insensitive, if this was their son I don’t think they would have done the same,” she added.
When asked about what they felt needed to be changed to avoid the situation ever repeating itself, the family’s expectation was clear:
“We want justice without any preferential treatment for anyone. Everyone should be equal,” Claudette said.
Featured photo: The Bartolo family, Claudette, Leonard and their two children, Owen and Alayza