Policeman in Aidan Bartolo arrest initially thought officer had been run over

Compilation of evidence against Aidan Bartolo resumed on Thursday

Aidan Bartolo (left) was arrested by Maltese police in the Miżieb woodland
Aidan Bartolo (left) was arrested by Maltese police in the Miżieb woodland

A police officer involved in an unsuccessful vehicle stop last December, in which some 56 shots were fired, testified today as compilation proceedings against Aidan Bartolo of Ghaxaq resumed this afternoon, telling the court that he had initially thought an officer had been hit by Bartolo’s car, only to later realise that this was not the case.

Bartolo stands accused of attempted murder, attempted grievous bodily harm, injuring police officers, dangerous driving, disobeying police orders and relapsing.

The 24-year-old accused is denying the charges.

He had been pulled over on 2 December by the police on suspicion of drug trafficking but had then reversed into two officers before driving off. Police officers then opened fire on his car, wounding him in the leg, but Bartolo still managed to escape. He was later found at Mizieb after a six-hour manhunt.

The court prohibited the publication of the names of the officers who testified today.

The first, a Special Intervention Unit constable told Magistrate Gabriella Vella how he had been asked to assist in Bartolo’s arrest after the suspect had been spotted in a Mazda Demio. “He was described as possibly armed and dangerous,” the witness recalled.

The constable had been driving a police car, with a police inspector and a sergeant as passengers. Communication with other police units in different locations had been ongoing, he said.

“When he saw that he was trapped, Bartolo had driven at police officers, then reversed in the direction of other officers before driving forwards once again,” he said.

The witness claimed to have seen Bartolo collide with a police car and then saw an officer “rolling on the ground.”

Other officers had fired warning shots, but Bartolo’s Mazda Demio had carried on manoeuvring before hitting a police van and driving towards the nearby roundabout against the flow of traffic. Bartolo had nearly hit other officers, added the witness, who could not say whether the officers had identified themselves as he had stayed put behind the steering wheel during the action.

A Drugs Squad police car also joined the chase, he said, and the Demio was later found, abandoned. A large-scale manhunt was launched over a large area, during which Bartolo was found.  “I saw him being helped into an ambulance, in the presence of Drugs Squad officers” the witness concluded.

“How do you know that he was trying to run over a policeman?” Bartolo's lawyer, Franco Debono, asked before suggesting that the accused was only trying to escape and hadn’t wanted to run anyone over.

“The manner in which he was driving indicated that he wanted to hurt police officers,” the witness replied. “I can’t speak for his intentions, but I know what I saw with my own eyes,” added the officer.

The accused had another way out by reversing, he said. Debono asked him whether Bartolo had attempted to do so.

“He reversed but only after trying to run over a police officer,” replied the witness.

Debono confronted the witness with the fact that he had just claimed that he could not know the accused’s intentions.

“The police van hadn’t completely blocked the road,” the witness said. Debono suggested that none of the police officers had actually been hit by the car. The officer then explained that, at the time, “when I saw an officer fly across my car’s bonnet, I thought he had been hit by the car. But this later turned out not to be the case.”

Debono asked the officer about a police circular on the use of firearms. “This basically says that you can use your weapon when your life, or that of others, is in danger,” said the officer.

In previous sittings, the court had heard the RIU inspector in charge of the operation claim to have fired at the car’s tyres in a bid to slow it down after seeing his colleague “about to be run over.”

“We were prepared for every eventuality…he had two options: either he drive into the police car or run over the officer, and he seemed to be going for the second option,” the officer had said.

During the last sitting, the court heard how no drugs or weapons had been found in Bartolo’s vehicle when it was found. Officers also gave conflicting reasons as to why newly-procured police bodycams had not been used, with one saying the correct helmet mount had not yet been issued, another saying that he had switched it off and other officers not wearing the bodycams at all because the camera’s red light “would have given their position away.”

The case continues in February.