Four days ago, in London, two Metropolitan Police officers who shared photos of two murdered sisters were jailed for two years and nine months each for what the judge described as “appalling and inexplicable” actions.
In Malta, four years ago, photos of the aftermath of the vicious bomb that killed journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia were circulated and shared to thousands of social media users, Whatsapp groups and other private chat groups, as well as passed on by myriad individuals to anyone they knew, and many they didn’t.
The UK is far from perfect, and now more than ever, is proving to be far from the oasis of decency and honesty many of us grew up believing it was. However, it’s clear that while there is indeed a deep rot turning that green and pleasant land into something altogether less attractive, there still exist more good people than bad in the legendary land of fair play and cricket.
Tragically, we can’t say the same about Malta.
Daphne’s son, Matthew, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist himself, has spoken of the indescribable horror of seeing his mother’s car ablaze in a field, body parts strewn across the road, desperately trying to work out if he could help her, and then the shock of realising that a man stood there, apparently taking photographs of the devastating scene.
Was that man, named as Mario Vella in press reports, ever investigated properly to find out whether had indeed carried out these “appalling and inexplicable” actions? Bizarrely, reports of the incident seem more concerned with the fact that Matthew Caruana Galizia had snatched the phone out of his hand and smashed it to the ground than with the gruesome perversion he suspected.
Vella claimed he hadn’t taken any photos, but his presence on the scene in the first place was unsavoury enough, even if he hadn’t actually taken the photos.
His explanation, that he lived in Bidnija and had rushed there to check his farm was ok after having been told there had been a bomb in the area, does not in any way clarify why he was loitering around the scene, but it seems to have satisfied the policemen there and the magistrate hearing his evidence, who showed no inclination to delve further.
But other people certainly did take photos, and several were shared in those terrible days after the hideous crime.
A police inspector giving evidence in court in February this year that he’d sealed off the crime scene to stop people from trespassing on it, and taken photographs for his report. Were those the photographs so shamelessly and callously shared by so many, both friend and foe of Caruana Galizia’s? Of course, it may not have been the inspector himself who shared them. The Maltese police force is chock full of compromised officers whose behaviour has shamed and humiliated the entire island.
We don’t know. We don’t know who took the photos, and we don’t know who first began sharing them. Because nobody appears to have bothered to try to find out.
The very idea that such a travesty, such a scandalous sacrilege of human tragedy, was allowed to happen and to continue happening, without any authority stepping in to apprehend the offenders and bring them to justice, is thrust into sharp relief when compared with the way the similar horror was treated in The UK.
What’s truly frightening about all this is that so many people knew about it, yet did nothing. Many people feigned shock and outrage – yet still looked at those photographs. The wrongness of it was acknowledged, but prurience triumphed.
Of course, four years later, we know that it’s not just gawking horror that has that effect on people in Malta. We see examples of blatant ‘wrongness’ everywhere: corruption, theft, wholesale plunder by government ministers, MPs, high ranking and low level officials, businessmen, individuals and groups.
The response is the same: shock, indignation, outrage – but little else. Day after day, The Shift publishes stories exposing massive scale criminality, deception, corruption and hypocrisy across all areas of Maltese life. Yet nothing happens to stop it.
The police, compromised as they are, actively avoid doing their duty, the attorney general buries her head in the sand and pretends not to notice, the judiciary sits in self-important isolation, buffered from criticism, oblivious to its own mediocrity, incompetence and ultimate responsibility, accepting ludicrous excuses and allowing one scandalous police, prosecution and lawyers’ lapse after another with barely a whisper of censure.
Four years later, the scandal of those photographs, the suspicions around their provenance, the enormity of the crime committed by those who took and eagerly shared those photographs, remains yet another festering wound for those of us who grieve for Caruana Galizia.
Reading the UK newspaper reports on the unfolding investigation into the two police officers who desecrated the memory of the two tragically slain sisters in such a similar way to that we experienced here, in the aftermath of Caruana Galizia’s assassination, has been, in a way, a massive relief.
Immersed in the sick reality of Maltese society and politics, one almost starts to doubt whether one’s over-reacting by being incensed by such foul, odious behaviour. The response of the British public, the rest of the police force, and the British judge was a timely and crucial reminder that this kind of thing is indeed contemptible, unforgivable and indeed, truly depraved.
The mother of the two British sisters called the officers’ actions a “betrayal of catastrophic proportions”. The prosecution said their loathsome behaviour stripped the innocent victims of “dignity in death”. The judge condemned the acts as “appalling and inexplicable”.
Yet here, it seems, there’s been no effort to even find or punish the instigators and perpetrators of a crime that’s so eerily similar. Amid the hideous cacophony of hate directed at Caruana Galizia, even after her brutal assassination, this act of pure evil appears to have been casually shrugged off like all the rest.
But in doing so, a large part of the Maltese public and the authorities that are supposed to maintain law and order are simply branding themselves, yet again, as soulless ghouls, bereft of any sense of decency or humanity.
The photographs may have been just one part of an ugliness that’s almost too grotesque to contemplate, but the failure to act against the culprits is yet another damning indictment of Maltese society today. This, in fact, is what true sacrilege looks like.