Man given probation for attacking landlord with a hoe

The attack left the victim with fractured vertebrae

A man has been found guilty of attacking his landlord with a hoe, in a frenzied attack which left the victim with fractured vertebrae.

Sylvester Zahra of Siggiewi was placed on probation for three years and ordered not to approach Antoine Saliba for one year against a €2,000 personal guarantee, after he was found guilty of grievously injuring the man when he attacked him with a hoe.

Zahra had originally been charged with attempted murder, but the charge was later dropped by the Attorney General.

Inspector Tony Cachia, who had investigated the case, had told the court, presided by magistrate Doreen Clarke, that Joseph Borg and the accused had attacked Saliba with a spirit level and a hoe.

Saliba suffered fractured vertebrae and deep cuts as a result. There was an allegation that during the course of the fight, pepper spray and a knuckleduster had been used.

The court had heard how, on 5 August 2011 Antoine Saliba, 37, had been changing the locks to a Zebbug flat rented out to Joseph Borg, who was in arrears.

On the day of the incident, the landlord, Saliba’s mother, had informed Borg that she was going, together with her husband, to clean the flat and had let herself in.

Upon finding heavy damage to the apartment and none of Borg’s belongings inside, bar his cat, she concluded that he had abandoned the property.

But as the couple was leaving the flat, they bumped into Borg, who was carrying a box for the cat. He promised to go get his money to pay the rent there and then, leaving the box on the floor.

After waiting for Borg to reappear with the money for two hours, she instructed her son to change the locks.

Later that day, at around 9pm, she had received a phone call from Borg, demanding that she send her son, Antoine to the premises. She had told her husband to accompany the son, as she had heard several voices in the background and was worried for his safety.

The two parties had argued and the row degenerated into physical violence.

Magistrate Doreen Clarke observed that the accused’s statement to the police had to be discarded as it was issued without the assistance of his lawyer.

Zahra’s defence counsel, lawyers Franco Debono and Marion Camilleri, had argued that the accused had only intervened in the fight to defend Borg. The court, however, had seen CCTV footage of the fight and said it showed Saliba backing off after throwing a punch at Borg. It also showed the accused, Borg and two other men chasing the victim, the first two armed with a spirit level and a hoe.

Quoting from jurisprudence and established legal doctrine, the court said that one of the requisites of legitimate self-defence is the inevitability of the harm against the accused, that he “cannot escape though he would.” It was clear in this case that even if Saliba had created a danger, Borg and his friends could have easily escaped, said the magistrate. Instead, they had chased after him, after returning to their van to arm themselves.

After hearing witness testimony and seeing CCTV footage of the incident, the court found Zahra guilty of very grievous bodily harm. It also found him guilty of voluntary damage to two cars. Zahra was cleared of using pepper spray as there was doubt as to who had used it during the altercation. He was also convicted of disturbing the peace and breaching a suspended sentence.

The court said it took into consideration several factors when it came to awarding punishment. The accused had a “rather worrying” criminal record, observed the magistrate and was struggling to overcome cocaine addiction.

With this in mind, the court said it would give the accused a “last chance” to effectively address his drug problem. It placed him under probation for three years and imposed a €2,000 guarantee, prohibiting him from approaching Saliba for one year.

Inspector Roderick Agius prosecuted.

Lawyers Franco Debono and Marion Camilleri were defence counsel.

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