Xghajra mayor guilty of harassing ex-girlfriend with 46,000 Facebook messages

Xghajra mayor Neil Attard is reported to have sent some 46,000 Facebook messages to his ex-girlfriend claiming to have done so ‘because he loved her’

Former Labour Xgħajra deputy mayor Neil Attard
Former Labour Xgħajra deputy mayor Neil Attard

Updated at 8pm with more details

A court has found Xgħajra mayor Neil Attard guilty of harassing his ex-girlfriend by sending her some 46,000 Facebook messages in 2015.

He was acquitted of threatening her and misusing telecommunications equipment, concluding a case which has been ongoing for seven years.

Attard, 39, who at the time of the incident was deputy mayor, had been charged with misuse of electronic telecommunications equipment in one case and with making threats through an electronic telecommunications network in the other. He was also accused of harassment and committing further offences whilst under a suspended sentence.

The court had heard the woman testify to having received an avalanche of phone calls and online message requests from a phone number registered in Attard’s name. 

The communications peaked between September and November 2015, but threats had started in May, she said, telling the court that Attard would wait behind her front door.

Although no explicit threats were made, in some of the messages exchanged between the sender and the woman, the sender had said he would seek revenge, noted the court.

The court had also heard Police Inspector Sylvana Gafa’ testify as to how, during his interrogation, the accused had admitted to sending the messages and making the calls, claiming to have done so “because he loved her.” 

But after examining relevant case law, Magistrate Caroline Farrugia Frendo, who took over the case from magistrate Saviour Demicoli, noted that the aim of the article from the Electronic Communications Act, under which one of the charges was issued, was “not to create or punish more harshly criminal offences which are found in other laws, but which take place through telecommunication equipment, but to prevent abuses of electronic communications that are technical in nature.”

“In the case in issue, the prosecution is alleging that the accused used electronic means, a mobile phone and the internet to bother, offend and threaten the woman and her husband. In the light of the teachings and jurisprudence quoted… wthe first charge cannot subsist.”

On the charge of harassment, the prosecution had exhibited call logs which clearly showed that several messages and calls had been received by the woman and her new partner. But, the court said, in the case of the partner, the prosecution had failed to prove who owned the phone numbers from where the calls and messages originated.

Although the prosecution had not summoned a representative of the network provider, the court had managed to identify the accused’s number from the Police report filed by the victim. “The volume of messages the accused sent to the complainant without a doubt created harassment, in that he obsessively sent her messages continuously.”

Finding him guilty on the charge of harassment, the court bound Attard, under a €2,000 guarantee, not to contact the woman or her estranged husband for one year. He was cleared of all other charges. 

Attard was acquitted of all charges in separate proceedings relating to the alleged threats. The court noted that the charges in that case specified that the offences had taken place on 28 November 2015.

Although call logs had been exhibited by telecommunications service providers, the court noted that the evidence it had before it did not even show that phone calls had taken place in the month of November. “Because of this shortcoming, the court cannot arrive at the conclusion that the accused had made the phone calls as is being alleged and as a result, the court has no option but to find the accused not guilty.”

“With regards to the second charge, this is tied to the first. In view of the fact that the prosecution failed to exhibit evidence showing that it was the accused who called the victim’s mobile phone, the court is also seeing that this charge is not proven in his regard.”

Lawyer David Gatt was defence counsel to Attard in both cases.

Lawyer Jason Azzopardi appeared parte civile for the woman. Lawyer Veronique Dalli represented her estranged husband.

Update: This story has been updated to reflect the fact that Neil Attard is the current mayor of Xgħajra and was deputy mayor when the incident happened in 2015. He had been expelled from the Labour Party back then but re-contested the local elections on the Labour ticket in 2019, winning the most votes and becoming the locality's mayor.