Boat arson: accused's girlfriend told police that he had been commissioned by third party

CCTV footage showed the accused climbing the boat’s railing and throwing a burning object into the vessel

File photo
File photo

Neighbours of a Santa Venera man accused of setting a boat on fire last month had filed a police report after hearing a loud domestic argument coming from his apartment late at night, after the fire.

Wayne Delia, 36, from Santa Venera is accused of arson, in connection with a fire which broke out on the boat “Megan Valletta” while it was moored at Sliema, severely damaging it, during the early hours of 29 July.

Delia also stands charged with having breached three separate sets of bail conditions. He denies the charges.

When the compilation of evidence against Delia continued before Magistrate Joe Mifsud on Tuesday, the accused’s partner, Rosaria Maria Camilleri, was summoned to the stand. The woman, who had also been arrested in connection with the arson attack, opted to exercise her legal right not to answer any questions in court.

Inspector Mario Xiberras, one of the investigating police inspectors who is also leading the prosecution in this case, also testified during the sitting. Xiberras told the court that during her interrogation, the woman had claimed that Delia was the victim in this case and that she was certain that he had been engaged to carry out the crime on someone else’s behalf. 

The court heard how police investigators had scoured CCTV footage of the jetty and had recognised a shirtless Delia from his tattoos. 

Inspector Xiberras explained how at around 1:15am on July 29, the Sliema police station received a report of a fire on board a boat moored at Sliema.

Fortunately, a passer-by who noticed the flames had leapt on board the burning board and threw an object which seemed to be the source of the flames overboard, into the sea. This stopped the fire from engulfing the boat and destroying it.

The inspector told the court that eyewitness accounts described a tall man climbing the boat’s railings before the fire. Investigators discovered a half-empty five litre fuel can on board and noted that fuel had been spread on the boat’s upholstery.

Inspectors Xiberras and Sheldon told the court that Delia, his girlfriend and a certain Oivin Xuereb had met in Santa Venera and when the accused had suggested they go to a restaurant in Sliema.

The woman was not aware of Delia’s intentions, the court was told.

Initial investigations into the fire revealed that the boat belonged to a certain Paul Gauci, who when spoken to by the police, explained that it would be used by another man, Keith Bezzina. 

Police investigators immediately began checking the CCTV footage in a bid to identify the two individuals who appeared in the footage, walking along the jetty. One of these individuals was notably taller than the other.

It emerged that two passers-by had witnessed the incident and that one of them had climbed aboard the boat, throwing the burning objects overboard.

The second man, who had been fishing nearby, told police that he had seen two men near the boat. One of them, whom he described as tall, had climbed aboard and poured “some kind of liquid,” before climbing the railing and throwing something onto the boat.

Inspector Xiberras explained that the police had also received a report of a domestic argument in Santa Venera later that night. It emerged that the woman in question would often be seen with Delia, something later confirmed by their mobile phone location data.

One of the calls, from the woman to Delia, had taken place between 10pm and 1:20:am on the night between the 28th and 29th July. The call was routed through the Manoel Island mobile phone tower, said the inspector.

Xiberras explained that two numbers involved had drawn his suspicion and one of them, which turned out to be registered to Oivin Xuereb, was corroborated by CCTV footage. At 1:04am, after the fire was started, a call had been made to a cab company asking to pick up Xuereb from Sliema. The voice making the call was recognised as Delia’s, he said.

Delia, his girlfriend and Xuereb had been arrested on August 25, after a lengthy investigation.

Inspector Sheldon had questioned Delia’s partner, who told him about the dinner date. She also told the police that she had argued with Delia later that night, at around 3am, about the arson attack, insisting that Delia “did what he did” because he had been put up to it by someone else. The woman had insisted with the police that she had only found out about the arson after they had left Sliema. 

On his part, Xuereb had told the police that he and Delia had gone to Manoel Island to fill the petrol can. Xuereb claimed that the men had planned to use it during a barbecue and that he had “gone crazy” when he discovered the fuel’s real intended purpose.

Xuereb had told the police that he had warned Delia that he was “gambling with the prospect of eight years in jail.” The man had also claimed to have tried to hide the petrol can in some bushes, only for Delia to find it soon afterwards.

Xuereb had also booked a taxi for the group from Sliema. The prosecution informed the court that Xuereb is currently on police bail and did not appear to have any involvement in the crime, although investigations were still ongoing.

The owners of the damaged boat, Paul Gauci and Keith Bezzina also testified, saying that the cost of repairing the damage caused by the fire had been estimated at €778.80.

Lawyers Franco Debono, Marion Camilleri and Francesca Zarb, appearing for Delia, made no request for bail at this stage.

The case was adjourned to September for more witness testimony.

Inspectors Jeffrey Scicluna and Colin Sheldon are prosecuting, Lawyer Rene Darmanin appeared as parte civile for the boat owners.