Keep moving, nothing to see here... just another week of bizarre headlines

A suspected homicide following an argument in St Paul’s Bay, a man in danger of dying after an argument in St Julian’s, and a man who pulled a gun on his wife. Our Courts are bursting with cases...

Well, where does one start?

Shall we discuss how a married couple, the owners of a childcare centre, were (allegedly) simultaneously running a brothel? I guess that’s a good enough departure point as any.

The raid on the brothel occurred after the Police were tipped off and, following a period of surveillance, they obtained a warrant and entered the premises. The husband was there, handling the cash at the Marsaskala apartment as men popped in and out to use the services of the three prostitutes, one of whom was a victim of human trafficking. Meanwhile, as a side hustle when she was not taking care of newborns and toddlers, the wife “would set up the meetings with potential clients and would tell the women when to open the door for them via text message.”

It is not yet clear how long the brothel side of the business had been going on; what we do know is that while the brothel was in Marsaskala, the more innocuous childcare centres are located in Swieqi and Mosta.

Once the names of the couple were released, it was very easy for members of the public to identify the childcare centres. The surreality of the same people running two such diametrically opposite businesses could not be more bizarre, and sent shockwaves among parents everywhere who demanded to know how this situation was allowed to happen. Where is the due diligence of those running childcare centres?

In fact, I found myself wondering how easy it was to simply open a childcare centre, so I went online and clicked on the form using my eID. The site filled in my personal details automatically and all I would have to do was write down the name of the centre and click ‘submit’. I was also referred to the Registration of Childcare Facilities as Educational Establishments Regulations as per Legal Notice 54 of 2008 and that I was “binding myself to abide by all the necessary regulations.”

According to the timeline, the vetting process would take a week, and approval of the application another two weeks. While a description of the premises and what would be offered is required, nothing in the regulations, as far as I could see, mentions anything about the owners themselves having to be vetted.

Although the childcare centres in this case were in the wife’s name, her husband has a criminal record on charges of theft and drug trafficking, something which was easily discovered by this newspaper, by running a search on the Court website. It is unacceptable that, where children are concerned, licenses are being handed out so freely, without checking the backgrounds of those involved. As we have seen in this case, no matter whose name the centre is registered under, both husband and wife need to be spotlessly clean.

The day after the case became public, the Ministry of Education suspended the license of the childcare centre “in the light of the allegations made”. Well, I should hope so.

Gambling away cancer donations

Another story which seems too unbelievable to be true is both appalling and heartbreaking. “Parents of seven-year-old cancer patient accused of gambling away charitable donations they received for his treatment” ran the headline and the audible gasp could be heard all over the country.

Almost every family in Malta has been touched by cancer; the number of those who have sadly lost children to cancer is also tragically high. So to read the following paragraph was almost too much to bear: “The parents of a cancer stricken seven-year-old child, have been accused in court of having defrauded their own son by gambling away money originally donated by the public and cancer charities to fund his medical treatment.”

The couple was charged with misappropriation, fraud and money-laundering and all those who donated money to this family will be called to testify. Meanwhile the children’s cancer charity Puttinu Cares issued a statement, clarifying that the donations it receives are only used to finance accommodation for the relatives of patients undergoing treatment in the UK, and no funds had been handed over in this case.

When someone has a gambling addiction, it becomes an all-consuming monster which blinds you to everything else. People have destroyed their families, lost their business, their family home and even fled the island to escape their mounting debts. However, when the money being frittered away was meant for a sick child, there are no words to express the magnitude of such heartlessness. Needless to say, this awful story will also greatly tarnish the reputation of the many fundraisers held for sick children, and will dent the trust of generous benefactors who have always willingly donated money.

Thugs for hire

It has been a week of one shock after another every time you click on the news.

As a 62-year-old man was jogging along the Sliema promenade at 7am in the morning, two men of Albanian nationality who were sitting on a bench suddenly got up and punched him in the face. The immediate assumption was that it was a random attack and the public outcry was understandable; it seemed that nowhere was safe anymore.

However when they were arrested, it transpired that the assault was not random at all, as they told Police that the attack had been orchestrated by the victim’s former son-in-law. “From our investigation it’s clear that Matthew Schembri was the brains behind this attack by these two Albanians on Louis Spiteri. We will show the malicious thought shown by Matthew throughout this case.”

While objecting to bail, Inspector Lydon Zammit said, “The case itself is very serious, for two reasons: the public outcry that this incident caused... and the fact that an elderly man was targeted,” adding that several individuals and organisations had contacted the police saying they were afraid of going to the Sliema promenade as a result of the assault. “Luckily, the injuries are slight. But the charges show that things could have easily taken a serious turn for the worse.”

On a more positive note, the anxiety and alarm being felt in Sliema due to yet another violent incident has finally led to some concrete action. On Friday it was announced by the Sliema Local Council that, “after talks with the Prime Minister & Internal Affairs Minister, as from Monday 20th June the Police will be patrolling the promenade stretch from Exiles area to the Strand from 5am to midnight.”

A Police presence is crucial not only in Sliema, but in all the areas which are often in the news for the wrong reasons. Unfortunately, these days, violence can erupt in any town or village near you.

In fact, if I had to write about everything which occurred over this last week, I would need more column space. A suspected homicide following an argument in St Paul’s Bay, a man in danger of dying after an argument in St Julian’s, and a man who pulled a gun on his wife. Our Courts are bursting with cases as people are arraigned on a myriad of charges every day, while law-abiding citizens are becoming increasingly uneasy with the news of sinister episodes which are becoming all too frequent.

The rule of law is not just a catch phrase but is direly needed if we are not going to descend into complete and utter anarchy.