Hamrun house collapse: Victim suffered anxiety due to development in days leading up to incident

House collapse victim’s husband testifies that site architect and developer told residents use of saw trenching instead of excavator was too expensive • Traumatised neighbour tells court she cannot return to her house in the same street

Miriam Pace's husband, Carmel, testified in the compilation of evidence against four men accused of causing his wife's death
Miriam Pace's husband, Carmel, testified in the compilation of evidence against four men accused of causing his wife's death

Days before her house collapsed, victim Miriam Pace suffered from anxiety due to concerns over neighbouring excavation works, a court was told. 

Pace, a mother of two, was inside the building when it came crashing down as a result of construction work in an adjacent site.

Magistrate Joe Mifsud continued hearing the compilation of evidence against four men accused of causing Pace’s death through negligence and of causing damage to third party property.

Husband Carmel Pace testified this morning. He gave the court an overview of the sequence of events which led to the deadly collapse on 2 March. 

Carmel Pace said that they had been informed of the development through Planning Authority notices which had been pinned on the wall of the garden adjacent to their home. 

He said that Miriam Pace had expressed concern over the development a few times before the incident, stating she had gone on site to see what the works involved. 

Pace said that trouble began on 18 February, when a dividing wall between the Pace household and the garden collapsed. He was informed of the incident at about 3pm, after arriving home from work. 

Asked what steps had been taken, Pace said a meeting between neighbours and the project’s architect was held. 

The meeting was held on 24 February, at a neighbour’s garage, with site architect Roderick Camilleri and contractor Ludwig Dimech both being present. 

Carmel Pace said that during the neighbours’ meeting, concern over the digging were raised, with them insisting that they should keep a distance of two and a half feet when carrying out excavations. 

Rescuers took eight hours to recover the lifeless body of Miriam Pace from beneath the debris of her house
Rescuers took eight hours to recover the lifeless body of Miriam Pace from beneath the debris of her house

Pace said that the neighbours were told that the law stipulating the distance was an old one, and this wasn’t needed. 

The developer and architect were also asked over the possibility of carrying out the excavations using a saw (sega) to prevent the noise emitted by drilling, to which they said it was not possible if they would be abiding by the two and a half feet law. 

“They told us it was very expensive, and would not be spending that much on it,” he said. 

Pace also explained how the family had employed an architect to survey the works. 

On 27 February, Pace said that after arriving from work, he heard loud banging from the garden facing side of the house. 

“First thing I did was check the walls for cracks, the banging was so loud,” he said.

‘We lost the happiness we had in our family’

Pace then proceeded to raise the issue with the workers, after which he found a construction worker hitting pillars with a large hammer on the Pace side of the development. 

“The hits were so strong that bricks on top of his head were shaking,” he said. 

Proceeding to the day of the incident, a visibly distraught Carmel Pace explained how he was informed of the incident in the street he lived by a work colleague. 

Carmel said that after Miriam had not picked up both her mobile and landline, he realised that she might have been involved in the incident. 

“When I arrived on site, and saw my house, I immediately felt that Miriam needed a miracle to survive,” he said. 

All that was recovered from the rubble was two showcases in which Carmel Pace collected books.

“The biggest loss was the memories, we will never be able to get them back. We lost the happiness we had in our family,” he said.

Traumatised neighbour fears returning to her home

Neighbours also testified during the hearing, with one of them, John Sammut stating that around 2:30pm on the day of the incident, he had gone out on the balcony to see a thick plume of white dust. 

He said that on the day of the incident, he had heard the pointed digger being used for the first time. 

He also recalled how weeks before the collapse, he was on the roof, and felt the building shake.

Another neighbour, Rosette Zerafa, who was also a friend of the deceased, explained how Miriam Pace had expressed fears over the development with her. 

Zerafa was also present during the neighbour meeting with the architect and developer, stating she had hosted it at her garage. 

She said that the issue over the two and a half feet legislation was raised by her and Miriam Pace. 

“I was told by architect Camilleri that trenching with the saw was too expensive,” she said. 

The site owner had agreed with the architect, Zerafa said. 

Recalling the day of the incident, Zerafa said that she had been video calling her daughter who was on Erasmus abroad, before she felt the tremor of the collapse. She proceeded to look out of the bedroom window to see a cloud of white dust. 

“When I saw the collapse building something inside me told me that Miriam was stuck inside,” she said. 

She had proceeded to call her for over ten times, before she was told to stop by CPD officials so as to not drain the victim’s mobile battery. 

Rosette Zerafa said that she is also suffering from psychological problems due to the incident. 

Despite her building not suffering any damage, she has since not returned to her home. 

“I only go home to pick up letters, but I’m too scared to stay inside for more than 10 minutes,” she said, recalling how she had suffered a panic attack the first time she had returned to the site of the incident. 

Inspectors Robert Vella and Matthew Galea are prosecuting. Lawyers Arthur Azzopardi and Alfred Abela are appearing on behalf of the architects. Lawyers Franco Debono and Marion Camilleri are assisting Spiteri. Lawyers Michael Sciriha, Roberto Montalto, Lucio Sciriha and Franco Galea are counsel to Dimech.

The Pace family were represented by lawyers Joe Giglio and David Bonello. Lawyer Stefano Filletti is assisting other neighbours.

The compilation continues on 2 July.

READ ALSO: Excavator used moments before Miriam Pace's death, court told

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