Two charged over hold ups targeting Convenience shops

Two men have been charged in court in connection with a recent string of armed hold-ups targeting a chain of Convenience shops

File photo
File photo

Two men have been charged in court in connection with a recent string of armed hold-ups targeting a chain of Convenience shops.

Tyson Bugeja, 26 and of Vittoriosa and David Joseph Bonnici, 34, of Zabbar were arraigned this morning by Police Inspectors Lydon Zammit, Stephen Gulia and Sarah Zerafa before magistrate Astrid May Grima.

The men were apprehended following a police investigation into the armed robberies which had targeted a chain of shop outlets in Paola, Zejtun, Zabbar and San Gwann in the last two months.

The two men were accused of four counts of theft aggravated by violence, means and value, detaining a number of people against their will, slightly injuring one of them. The accused were further charged with carrying a weapon during the commission of a crime against the person.

Bugeja, who is the subject of several ongoing criminal proceedings involving violence, was also accused of carrying a knife in public without a police permit and breaching conditions imposed by the courts in sentences and bail decrees handed down in the months preceding the robberies.

Bonnici was additionally charged with committing another hold up at a Convenience store in Zabbar, last December.

The men pleaded not guilty during their arraignment this morning.

Lawyers Franco Debono and Daniel Attard, appearing for Bugeja and Bonnici respectively, asked for bail.

Inspector Lydon Zammit objected to the bail request. “We have four armed robberies of commercial establishments, three of which had members of the public present. The court will see CCTV of the aggressive and violent manner in which members of the public were illegally arrested by the accused, he said.

The crimes had also created fear amongst the employees of the chain targeted by the robbers; the inspector went on. “It created a fear that ‘I’m next’,” Zammit said.

Responding to defence arguments that the men had been released on police bail and had behaved themselves, the inspector argued that police bail was not given capriciously, but specifically because Bonnici had gone to the hospital and was only available for police questioning for a few hours. There were also a number of civilian witnesses, present during the robberies, who had not yet testified, Zammit argued.

Bugeja had also allegedly breached two recently delivered bail decrees as well as court sentences that had been handed down not long ago, he said, telling the court that the man had a “voluminous” criminal record.

As Bonnici was a first time offender who had told the police he needed help to overcome his problems, it was not the opportune time for him to be released back into society, concluded the prosecution.

In his submissions on bail, Debono argued that the discomfort of the witnesses was not a factor in deciding on bail. Two or three weeks had passed since the robberies, he said, emphasising that the men had been released on police bail without further incident.

The evidence was weak in this case, Debono said. He invited the court not to ignore the fact that his client had been released on police bail and had not done anything that the prosecution feared would happen.

Lawyer Daniel Attard, for Bonnici, told the court that this was the first time that his client had been arraigned in court. He was going through very serious problems in his life at this time and had sought help at Mount Carmel hospital whilst on police bail to address these problems, said the lawyer.

Attard stated that his client had a stable job and was a functioning member of society, willing to submit to any conditions imposed by the court.

But Magistrate Astrid May Grima turned down the bail requests in view of the grave nature of the charges brought against the accused, as well as a large number of civilian witnesses yet to testify. With regards to Bonnici, the court, after seeing a medical certificate exhibited in the acts, made a recommendation to the prison director to detain him at the Forensic Unit.