Silence on Azzopardi CCTV footage tampering

Court expert Martin Bajada and former police inspector Paul Caruana have remained totally silent on the report that the CCTV footage prepared for the inquiry on the death of Nicholas Azzopardi was heavily edited.

The CCTV footage prepared for the inquiry held by Judge Albert Manche by court expert Martin Bajada and former police inspector Paul Caruana has been heavily edited and entire sequences of frames - which would have been crucial towards determining the chain of events which led to Nicholas Azzopardi being badly hurt while in police custody - were deleted.

Nicholas Azzopardi's relatives (including his parents, as well as his brother) have asked Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi to give them access to all the video footage captured on the CCTV cameras at the back of police headquarters on 8 and 9 April 2008 - the two days in which Nicholas was taken into custody and then was injured very seriously until he died, 13 days later, at Mater Dei Hospital after succumbing to his injuries.

When the Azzopardis met the Prime Minister on 4 September 2012, they told him that so far they have had access to only the video footage laid on the table of the House of Representatives, together with the report of Manche'. The Azzopardis told the Prime Minister that this video footage was heavily edited, and that important sequences were missing. In his report, Judge Manche' accepts uncritically that the video footage prepared for him by the police. He did not appoint any independent IT expert to analyse the integrity of the CCTV footage prepared for him as video footage to corroborate the version of the police implicated in the Azzopardi incident.

Court expert Martin Bajada edited the original CCTV footage captured by cameras at the back of Police HQ. Assistant Commissioner Michael Cassar - under whose watch the Azzopardi incident took place as Police Commissioner John Rizzo was away from Malta - told Judge Manche' that Bajada "had a tough job selecting the relevant sequences of the CCTV footage".

The Manche' report does not include a proper trace audit of what was deleted from the original footage. There are important sequences missing and no explanation has been given as to why they are missing and whether the original footage is still available.

Martin Bajada - who prepared the edited CCTV footage - failed to follow his own guidelines, which he expanded on during a talk he gave on 12 January 2012 in a local hotel, which focused on the 'Retrieval of video & CCTV evidence' for police investigations.

One part of Bajada's talk zoomed in on the importance of the 'time check'.

"Compare the time given by the speaking clock with that displayed by the CCTV system. Any error between the system time and real time should be noted and compensated for when carrying out the download. This will ensure that the correct section of data is copied," Bajada had said during the talk.

Yet, in his edited footage for the Manche' report, Bajada omits the exact time sequence and synchronisation between cameras, which is necessary to determine the correct chain of events.

In his edited footage for the Manche' inquiry, Bajada makes no reference to the speaking clock (actual time). The system time of both cameras located on IT and IRU sections at Police HQ has not been compensated and compared to the speaking clock, and neither was any discrepancy noted. This is crucial, since it forms the basis of having a common time base from which all the movements of the persons involved in the Azzopardi incident can be calculated and their version of the story accurately checked.

Apart from the heavily edited CCTV footage prepared for the Manche' inquiry, other footage was destroyed because, according to the police, it was retrieved too late and it had already been overwritten.

Another CCTV camera overlooking the CID gate at Police HQ was out of action when the Azzopardi incident took place. This camera would have captured important scenes to prove or disprove the police narrative of what really took place on 9 April 2008 while Azzopardi was in police custody.

Court expert Martin Bajada and former police inspector Paul Caruana have remained totally silent on the report that the CCTV footage prepared for the inquiry on the death of Nicholas Azzopardi was heavily edited. 

Friends of Bajada's boast that he is well connected and that he has friends in high places. These connections have served him well to survive what he did in London in 1992. Not only has he survived... he has gone on to become a court expert whose evidence determines the fate of many people.

Evarist Bartolo is shadow minister for education