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When justice is warped and denied

Is there is no one out there who has the gall to question the political class, the judiciary and the police when justice is denied?

Saviour Balzan
19 March 2012, 12:00am
Check out Nicholas AzzopardiÂ’s death bed statement on YouTube on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oDIy0ayI2N0
This week police sergeant Adrian Lia was faced with charges of having stolen €30,000 from the police force.

It was undoubtedly nothing new to a police force which over the past few years has proven to us that it holds a fairer share of bad apples than most organisations.

Interesting, for an agency that is subcontracted with upholding the law and enforcing it.

Yet, the interesting angle to this story is that this particular sergeant is an icon for the ‘liar liar’ syndrome and the criminal mind. And despite having lied about the fact that he saved a certain Mary Farrugia from drowning, he was also promoted by those who believed him.

Later – and more importantly – he was central and crucial to the findings of an inquiry which was given the brief to inquire whether there was police misconduct that allegedly led someone to jump to his death whilst in custody.

Adrian Lia was not new to the media. Years ago, he was awarded a gold medal for having suggested that he jumped into the sea off Ghar id-Dud to save the life of a person in distress. He was lauded by the press, the then minister Joe Mizzi, and the disgraced police commissioner George Grech.

Later, it transpired that the constable – at the time – did not even wet his socks. He had not jumped and had simply concocted the story.

His gold medal was taken away and then, as is typical for this country – where people suffer from amnesia – he was later promoted to sergeant.

Nothing seems to have caught the eye of the police commissioner and so Lia found himself in the Vice Squad and suddenly returned to the media scene, after the untimely ‘jump’ from the bastions, while in police custody at the police headquarters, of Nicholas Azzopardi.

Azzopardi would die 13 days later at Mater Dei.

The media would not have asked questions were it not for Azzopardi’s deathbed declaration: when he claimed he was beaten up by the same police.

The versions given by Lia and Azzopardi on that fateful day are divergent, to put it mildly.

Let me take everyone back to what MaltaToday reported then – a piece of reportage which was butchered by PBS and The Times, two media agencies who have an ingrained fetish of demolishing anything MaltaToday happens to report.

Journalist Karl Schembri had said that claims that a police officer was injured trying “to save Nicholas Azzopardi from jumping off a wall” remain shrouded in mystery. 

Schembri had said MaltaToday was reliably informed that nowhere is this documented on official police records.

MT had reported that no internal police register had made reference to the allegation carried on The Times’s front page on 1 May that a policeman was injured as he tried to hold Azzopardi, carried under the headline ‘Policeman ‘tried to save’ Nicholas Azzopardi’.

Nor was there any mention of the alleged treatment the same policeman was supposed to have been given in hospital for “scratches on his forearms and chest injuries”.

The news shifted the onus back onto the police force to explain the suspicious claim made a full nine days after the death of Azzopardi after he was interrogated by Police Sergeant 656 Adrian Lia and Police Constable 1359 Reuben Zammit.

Azzopardi died 13 days after he was arrested and was allegedly beaten up by police officers at the Floriana police headquarters on 8 April.

MT had then reported that hours before he died on 22 April, he told his family and inquiring magistrate that he had been heavily beaten up by his interrogators while under arrest.

His family believed Azzopardi was attacked by an officer who flung a side-kick, breaking his ribs and puncturing his lung. His death was the subject of a magisterial inquiry by Antonio Vella, and of a parallel inquiry by retired judge Albert Manchè launched by the government following the publication of the revelations made by Azzopardi in MaltaToday.

Sources had told MaltaToday that the internal police report jarred with the version given by anonymous sources to The Times at the beginning of that month.

The report is understood to have been an extensive one delving into the timing, place and circumstances of the incident and also follows up Azzopardi’s condition in hospital until his death on 22 April, but it makes no reference to injuries that had been allegedly sustained by policemen or any treatment given to them at Mater Dei Hospital.

According to The Times, “the officer, who was escorting Mr Azzopardi, was treated in hospital for scratches on his forearms and chest injuries ‘which the doctor confirmed were exactly compatible with somebody trying to hold onto someone hanging from a wall’”.

Instead, the police records showed that both Sergeant Lia and Constable Zammit were unable to speak and give any details to their own colleagues as they were evidently “under shock.”

The police records also contradict The Times report on another count: that the officers escorting him were about to search Azzopardi’s car just before the incident.

“The sources explained that on April 9 the police needed to search Mr Azzopardi’s car,” The Times reported.

“As they were crossing what is known as the CID yard, the officers realised that the victim’s wife was waiting in the reception area of the CID. In a bid to avoid a confrontation, one of the officers went to address his wife. Another policeman went to the back with Mr Azzopardi, while his wife was admitted to the offices,’ the sources said.”

In contrast, police records show that Azzopardi was being escorted to the Crime Office section to have his fingerprints and photos taken. Again, the records show no evidence of what was told to The Times on 1 May with regards to Azzopardi’s car and wife.

The police registry makes no mention of the claim – also reported in The Times – that Azzopardi was admitted twice to hospital complaining of chest pains between 8 and 9 April, before he allegedly jumped off the wall.

The inquiry, when finally published, concluded that Azzopardi was not assaulted by anyone while he was in police custody between 8 and 9 April.

Mr Azzopardi, who died shortly after, had claimed he was beaten by the police and thrown into the ditch.

Well, considering that Adrian Lia was the crucial witness in this case, and considering that he is a proven liar and a self-confessed criminal, MaltaToday asked the Home Affairs Minister whether he felt that he should re-open the inquiry.

A question which had one expected response. No, he did not.

Which is not surprising, considering that our home affairs minister is synonymous with complacency, ineffectiveness and lackadaisical behaviour.

Is there is no one out there who has the gall to question the political class, the judiciary and the police when justice is denied?

Saviour Balzan is the founder and co-owner of MaltaToday. He has reported on Maltese poli...