Tista’ taqra dan l-artiklu bil-Malti
Police Commissioner Angelo Gafa has been publicly chastised by the courts again. What should have been an open and shut case of a man caught red-handed hunting illegally on a public holiday was botched so terribly that Judge Consuelo Scerri Herrera publicly berated Gafa’s police.
“With all due respect, with such flimsy evidence (provi fjakki), the Court cannot be convinced that the accused is guilty. In view of all the deficiencies listed, the Court has no alternative but to acquit Jesmond Saliba of all charges”, the Judge’s verdict read. “The Court is deeply disappointed with the investigations carried out by the police.”
So disgusted was the Court with the police’s pathetic prosecution that it went a step further. It ordered that the Police Commissioner, Angelo Gafa, be notified that such procedures should be conducted with greater attention and that “all evidence should be brought before the court according to the law”.
The police’s prosecution was an utter disaster. All the work had been done for them by CABS volunteers who caught the man hunting, recorded him on film with a shotgun, and provided police with a detailed report including the precise location and time when the man was seen and his evasive movements for the next 25 minutes.
They even gave their film to the police. All the police had to do was charge the man and call the CABS volunteers to testify.
Instead, the police messed it up from start to finish. Even the charge sheet was wrong. The charge indicated that the alleged crime was committed at 6.10pm but the CABS volunteers had given the police the precise time, which was around 4.30pm.
The police didn’t call Christian Cachia Zammit, one of the CABS volunteers who had seen the man and recorded the video, to testify. The testimony of another CABS volunteer, Fiona Burrows and that of another man, Thomas Borg, were not inserted into the acts of the case.
Without a sworn testimony of the persons who took the film and provided the report to the police, the court could only consider the evidence they provided as “hearsay”.
What was even more suspicious was that the film provided by CABS volunteers to the police was not the same as that exhibited in court. The court noted that “there is a discrepancy” between the two films. In the one exhibited in court by the police, the accused is not seen with a shotgun but merely walking among some trees.
The police who submitted affidavits about the case could not identify the accused. And none of the police officers reported that the person in the film was carrying a shotgun or other firearm. Their affidavits only stated that they saw a man walking.
Most damning, the police failed to call the witnesses who could identify the accused to testify.
When Jesmond Saliba was apprehended by the police and informed that they would be pressing charges against him, he refused to reply to questions and signed a declaration stating that he did not wish to consult his lawyer. But the police failed to exhibit his signed declaration in court as they were obliged to do.
The police failed to present any evidence at all that could have identified the accused. They presented no smidgin of proof that the man was carrying a shotgun. They failed to call key witnesses. What evidence they had was not included in the acts of the case. The film they had been given was somehow tampered with before it was exhibited in court. They couldn’t even get the time of the crime right.
This is the tragicomic level at which our police force operates. If they cannot even secure a conviction when others have done all the work for them – identified the crime and the criminal, preserved filmed evidence of the crime, informed the police – then which convictions can they secure?
The tragedy for the nation is that criminals have a field day. Those criminals know that the police are either so pathetically incompetent or so profoundly corrupt that they are unlikely ever to be held responsible for their crimes.
When a case so elementary as this can be so utterly bungled, what are the chances of securing convictions in more complex criminal cases?
Angelo Gafa’s complete silence in response to the latest public admonishment provides no solace that things will improve. Time and time again, the stark deficiencies, if not willful incompetence, of our police forces are condemned by the Court. But there is never a reaction from either the commissioner or his deputies.
The Minister responsible also does not respond to repetitive public censures of the police force. No inquiries are called into such abject failures. No processes exist for the force to learn from its own “mistakes”. Those are the signs of a failed institution.
Great organisations admit failures, analyse them and learn from them. Acknowledging failure is the essential first step in halting the cycle of atrocious incompetence that allows criminals in Malta to enjoy an unprecedented level of impunity.
Commissioner Gafa should listen to those devastating scoldings. Instead, he demonstrates a profound deafness eclipsed only by his Minister’s blindness to the real danger to national security his force’s incompetence poses.
But Gafa’s police force also failed to convert €3.6 million in unpaid court fines into prison sentences. The police’s failure to execute those prison sentences encourages more people to avoid paying. Those prison sentences are the only incentive for people to pay their fines.
Gafa’s dismal failures not only expose us to more significant dangers but deprive us of sorely needed public funds. No wonder only 8.5% of Inferior courts and 4.9% of Gozo Court registry fines have been collected.
That’s a double whammy for taxpayers. We’re funding a police force that bungles the most elementary of prosecutions and which lets the few who are convicted get away without paying their court fines.