Motorist declared not guilty after ferry fight knockout of queue-jumping motorcyclist

The motorist has been aquitted of grievously injuring a Maltese man during an altercation on the Gozo ferry


A Gozo court has acquitted a motorist of causing grievous bodily harm to a motorcyclist whom he knocked out in a fight which started after he clipped the dismounted motorcyclist with a wing mirror, saying the latter had been looking for trouble.

Dutchman Jabier Alain Rizal Van Der Burg, 33 of Luqa was acquitted of grievously injuring a Maltese man in an altercation on board the M.V. Ta’ Pinu at Mġarr Harbour last summer.

The incident involving Van Der Burg and Moses Briffa occurred after Briffa was struck by the defendant’s wing mirror whilst purchasing a ferry ticket. Inspector Bernard Charles Spiteri told the court that the initial incident had been caught on CCTV and gave the court a description of the footage.

The officer said that after the mirror strike, the accused drove on to the ferry and parked his car. Briffa too boarded the ferry on his motorcycle and parked at the rear end of the vessel. Briffa had then started looking for the accused. Spiteri informed the court that the altercation was, however, not captured on camera.

The accused’s mother testified soon after Van Der Burg was arraigned, recounting how her son had accidentally hit Briffa with the side mirror of the car whilst Briffa was purchasing his ticket, Briffa having jumped the queue. When they were on the ferry she then saw Briffa approaching them. Briffa was “very aggressive” and had tried to punch the accused, who punched back. That is when Briffa fell to the ground. The witness stated that her son wanted to defend her and his nephew and niece who are very young and who were with them during that time. She added that both herself and her son had assisted Briffa and stayed with him until a medical team arrived and took over.

A doctor who treated Briffa said the man had suffered a cut to his head, 4cm long, which required stitches. A CT scan was also carried out and detected a small haematoma on the brain, which could have led to death had it bled, said the doctor, explaining the grievous injury classification. Despite the injuries, no follow up appointment was needed and no permanent damage was caused.

Briffa had testified, telling the court that when he boarded the ferry he saw the accused looking at him, so he walked up to him to find out what he wanted and that was when he was punched. He said that when he was punched he passed out and does not recall anything.

Briffa stated also that he did not see the accused with any children by his side. He further added that after being discharged from hospital, he was driven to Gozo from where he collected his motorcycle and drove himself down back to Malta. Two weeks after the incident he was back to work, he said.

In her judgment on the case, Magistrate Brigitte Sultana said she had “watched attentively the footage downloaded from the camera near the ticket booth at Mgarr booth facility was well as that downloaded from the camera on the ferry Ta’ Pinu.”

The magistrate pointed out that the onus of proof was on the prosecution and that it was up to it to morally convince the court of the accused’s guilt.

The CCTV footage was crucial in the court’s assessment of the evidence, it said, as witness evidence is always subjective.

In the present case, from the footage downloaded from the camera at the ticket booth, the Court said it could see that whilst the accused was inching slowly towards the ticket booth to purchase the ferry tickets, Briffa came round from the back, on foot, with the intention of purchasing a ticket too. “It is very pertinent to point out that in front of the booth there is no pedestrian walkway or pavement and indeed the ledge just outside the booth is very narrow and this for the simple reason that, that particular area is meant for vehicles to be driven up to the window and the driver pays the fare. So much so that to be able to do that just that – payment of the fare - the driver of a vehicle has to come up close to the ledge otherwise he would not be able to hand the money over to the attendant inside the booth,” noted the court.

It said that it was of the opinion that Briffa should not have parked and walked up to booth and that he had done so in order to jump the queue.

“The Court also noticed that the accused brushed against Mr. Briffa’s rear with the side mirror. This happened because Mr. Briffa sandwiched himself between the car and the booth. He was too intent on getting the ticket before anyone else.”

“In the footage Mr. Briffa is seen parking his motorcycle at the rear end of the ferry, alighting the motorcycle, removing his face mask and actively looking for someone. The version given by the accused also confirms this. The Court notes how Mr. Briffa was looking around. The Court does believe that Mr. Briffa did eventually identify the accused and walk up to him. The Court could also appreciate the menacing air adopted by Mr. Briffa, even though he stated otherwise during his testimony.”

His body language was clear in that he was looking for someone specific, said the magistrate. The Court could note that he was looking cars up and down and actively searching for someone. “This footage also contradicts the recounting of events given by Mr. Briffa and for this reason the Court deems this witness as not credible,” said the magistrate.

However the footage did not capture how Briffa ended up unconscious or who threw the first punch, observed the court. “This Court, after witnessing Mr. Briffa’s behaviour once on board, is convinced that it was Mr. Briffa who approached the accused. The Court also notes that from where Moses Briffa parked his motorcycle he could easily have gone upstairs on deck and continued his crossing in peace. Instead, he chose to seek out the accused. Such a decision led to the argument, which in the opinion of the court is what Mr Briffa actively intended to achieve.”

On the charge of grievous bodily harm, the court said that the elements of the offence had not been proven and could not rely solely on the version of the injured party, acquitting Van Der Burg of the charge. It also acquitted him of breaching the peace, citing the same reasons.