'No physical symptoms of distress' in Kalkara cave abductee, lawyer argues

Lawyer says victim's sypmtoms following the abduction were limited to sleeping trouble and anxiety, do not justify delay in taking the stand

Roddie Williams' defence lawyer argued that cave abductee Natalie Williams had 'no physical symptoms' which could justify her delay in testifying
Roddie Williams' defence lawyer argued that cave abductee Natalie Williams had 'no physical symptoms' which could justify her delay in testifying

Defence lawyers for a man accused of imprisoning his wife in a cave have contested the validity of medical certification that she was unfit to testify, arguing that she had no physical symptoms of distress that merited the delay in taking the stand.

Natalie Williams, 46, was discovered in a deep rock crevice underground around the Rinella area, after her husband Roddie Williams told police of her whereabouts when they intervened in an argument between Williams and relatives in Triq is-Salvatur, Kalkara.

Williams had been missing for three days when she was found inside the cave, cold, dazed, as well as exposed to vermin inside the complex of underground rooms near the old Kalkara fortifications.

Seychelles-born Williams stands charged with having kidnapped the Maltese woman, trapping her in the abandoned tunnel in Kalkara, without any food and drink for several days, thereby placing her life in manifest jeopardy. He is also accused of raping the woman, holding her against her will, harassing her and causing her to fear violence would be used against her.

Psychiatrist Dr David Cassar took the witness stand this morning. He had signed a medical certificate for Nathalie Williams excusing her from testifying in court in the last sitting. Magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit asked him why this was so. The psychiatrist pointed out that what he would be testifying about would be sensitive and private information. The court ordered the public and press out of the courtroom.

When reporters were readmitted, several minutes later, defence lawyer Franco Debono was arguing that the man had been in custody for three months and that the woman had no physical symptoms, bar trouble sleeping and anxiety. “So everyone who has a sleepless night is now to be exempt from testifying?” he questioned.

“If, before testifying in the inquiry they had got a psychiatrist who said the same thing, we wouldn’t have the testimony in virtue of which this person is being kept under arrest. But if the police had got the psychiatrist to say that Williams was in a position to testify then she would have testified and they wouldn’t have kept him under arrest,” argued Debono, accusing the prosecution of using “two weights and two measures.”

Debono also attacked Cassar’s credibility. “There was a specialist accreditation committee in 2003 during EU accession which didn’t want to accreditate Cassar. For him to come here and tell us that she cannot testify because she has flashbacks of the incident... if she didn’t, it would be abnormal. So she had some sleepless nights and some fears... are we going to adopt this rule that people who have these issues can’t testify?”

“From the number of questions posed to the psychiatrist, what it all boils down to is that this lady is having sleepless nights, fear which is normal and has some recollections of the incident,” insisted the lawyer, pointing out that the doctor had said there were “absolutely no physical symptoms.”

“We are asking for her to testify in the interests of justice because we have a person being deprived of his liberty.” The magistrate pointed out that the prosecution was merely asking for the woman to testify at a later date after some medication she was prescribed would have taken effect.

Debono was adamant, however. “We are interpreting this as her trying to avoid testifying. She has already changed her version- that is a fact. All these medical certificates I wasn’t impressed at all. The psychiatrist telling us that she remembers the incident is not that impressive.”

The court after hearing the testimony of Cassar and submissions by the parties, said it felt that the certificate issued was justified, however and would remain so until the treatment begins to produce an effect as stated. This does not mean, however that the alleged victim will not be brought to testify once the said six weeks will lapse.”

In view of this, Debono asked for bail. “He has six weeks of waiting now.”

Inspector Josric Mifsud, prosecuting, pointed out that the accused’s only ties to Malta were through his marriage to Williams.

The court will now issue a decree on bail from the chambers.

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