Prison director charged after pointing gun at ambulance driver

Ambulance company director tells court that Robert Brincau threatened to kill him and his entire family

CCF director Robert Brincau
CCF director Robert Brincau

The director of a private ambulance company has testified that prison director Robert Brincau threatened to kill him and his family, in an angry phone call last August.

Charlton Caruana was testifying in criminal proceedings against Brincau, 49, who took over the directorship of the Corradino Correctional Facility from Col. Alexander Dalli in 2021.

Brincau was arraigned by summons and not under arrest before Magistrate Charmaine Galea on Wednesday morning.

Inspector Ryan Vella charged Brincau with slight bodily harm, threatening a man with a weapon, insulting and threatening the man, carrying an unlicensed firearm in public, being armed during the commission of an offence and breaching the peace, in connection with the 21 August incident at Għadira Bay.

Brincau is also accused of having, on the same day, used electronic communications equipment to threaten the director of the rival ambulance service.

Brincau is denying the charges and in court his lawyer argued this was a case of false reporting.

Witnesses described to the court how the prison director had allegedly threatened an ambulance crew with a handgun at Għadira Bay last summer, in an incident apparently motivated by commercial rivalry between the ambulance service provider and the Malta Red Cross, which Brincau had been the director of.

The testimony of prosecution witnesses who testified during the arraignment this morning about the weapon are subject to a ban on publication, after a defence request to this effect, on the grounds of “national and personal security.”

The driver of the private ambulance, Liam Doublet, also took the stand today. His employer, Alpha Medical, had won a tender issued by the Malta Tourism Authority to offer private ambulance services, he said.

“[A nurse and I] had been tasked with taking a patient to Mater Dei from Għadira… We were told that the patient was suffering from chest pain and shortness of breath. We are engaged by MTA to do this job,” the driver said.

After transporting the casualty to Mater Dei, the private ambulance had returned to the popular bay.

Pulling out a weapon

“When we returned [to Ghadira], at around 5:30pm, there was a police officer who told us that a patient had been stung by a hornet. I got out of the car. This man came up to me, saying "miegħi ma tiċċajtax('there’s no joking around with me’). He moved closer and head-butted me. I punched him and then he pulled out a weapon,” the driver testified. The handgun had a silver slide and a black grip, he recalled.

“It was a 9mm,” added the witness, explaining that he knew this because three weeks before the incident, he had visited a shooting range while on a trip to Poland.

“Then he threatened me and my family. This was captured on video,” said the ambulance driver, explaining that his colleague had started to film the incident from inside the ambulance after the initial head-butt.

A woman who had been accompanying his assailant had intervened and tried to calm the situation down. Brincau then went to his car while the woman spoke to someone on the phone. After the incident, the ambulance crew had filed a report at the Qawra police station, he said.

The witness said that a policeman had been a few metres away, waiting for the bus as his shift was over. The officer did not attempt to intervene, he said. “When he heard the commotion, he seemed to try and take cover.”

The ambulance driver told the court that he had never seen Brincau before but the nurse had sent his boss her video of the incident on WhatsApp and that his boss had recognised Brincau. The decision to file a police report had been taken before the video was sent, he said, in reply to a question by defence lawyer Stephen Tonna Lowell.

Not first incident

Under cross-examination, the ambulance driver explained that this was not the first incident where a Malta Red Cross beach supervisor had attempted to prevent casualties from being transported to Mater Dei hospital by Alpha Medical.

“If the patient tells us he wants to go to Mater Dei, we take him to Mater Dei. But the supervisor insisted that he had to call an ambulance from Mater Dei. The Red Cross supervisor didn’t want to let us take the patient.”

The witness denied Tonna Lowell’s suggestion that he had struck the Red Cross volunteer.

It was pointed out to the court that this was not the first such incident. A similar situation had also occurred on 23 July, and had also involved the witness. The ambulance driver denied suggestions that he had used violence on that occasion and pointed out that the police had not investigated him about it.

The ambulance driver told the court that after being head-butted, he had punched the assailant, only dealing him a glancing blow as he had been holding his phone and keys in his punching hand. Around 30 seconds later, he found himself with a gun pointed at him, he said.

Going cold when seeing the gun

The lawyer asked what the witness had done when he saw the gun. “I went cold. I went mute,” replied the witness, adding that he had been standing in front of the ambulance at the time. “Had it not been for his wife, who intervened and told him not to do stupid things, I don’t know what would have happened,” the ambulance driver said. 

The nurse, who had been inside the ambulance, had started filming the incident on the company-issued mobile phone as soon as she saw the gun being drawn, he said.

“So instead of calling the police, she filmed the incident?” asked Tonna Lowell, a question the court suggested would be best directed at the nurse when she testified.

The lawyer suggested that after everyone calmed down, the two men had walked together and talked about how the two companies should cooperate. The witness agreed. “I was still terrified though. He still had the weapon on him.”

During his deposition, the witness said he had tried to call his superior, Charlton Caruana but finding the line busy had called up Caruana’s wife at around 6:15pm, asking her to tell Caruana to return his call. The ambulance crew had filed a report at the Qawra police station after Brincau and his partner had left the scene.

“You said there was a police officer around 30 metres away, didn’t it occur to you that you should speak to the officer?” asked Tonna Lowell.

“I was terrified. The man was armed and I feared the situation would escalate if I did this. Would the fact that there was a policeman change anything? I didn’t know what was going through his head.”

The topic of questioning moved on to the weapon allegedly used. Tonna Lowell asked the witness to name the Polish shooting range he had visited. The ambulance driver could not remember the name, but said he had photos.

He confirmed that it was his first time handling a firearm and that he didn’t remember the manufacturer and model of the firearm he had used at the range, but knew that it was a 9mm. 

Asked whether he was a firearms enthusiast, he said he was “interested in war and played a lot of Call of Duty.”

Next to testify was the Alpha Medical ambulance nurse, Daniela Dingli. She recounted how earlier that afternoon, the ambulance crew had been approached by the owner of a beachfront kiosk, who alerted them to a man who was complaining of pain in his chest, left arm and abdomen.

“I realised that this could be a heart problem and he needed to go to hospital,” she testified.

The Malta Red Cross first aider had also spoken to the patient, who confirmed that he wanted to be taken to Mater Dei Hospital, she said.

The Malta Red Cross team had obstructed them from doing so, she testified. “They told us ‘no you can’t take him, no you can’t take him. The ambulance is already on its way.’”

“I replied that the casualty needed immediate care and that we needed to take him to Mater Dei,” the nurse testified.

The Alpha Medical ambulance crew put the patient in their ambulance, she said. “The Red Cross [team] chased us for the patient’s details. I said we would give it to them when we returned.”

‘I saw a man coming for my driver’

When the private ambulance returned to Għadira at around 5:30pm, a policeman on duty there told them that there was a person who had been stung by a hornet. An ambulance was already on its way, they were told.

“I said it wasn’t a problem and that I’d see what I could do,” the nurse recalled saying, before going to the ambulance to pick up some gloves. “As I was getting the gloves, I saw the man who is now sitting in the dock and someone else, coming for my driver.”

This person had not been wearing a Red Cross uniform, unlike the previous supervisor, she explained.

“He walked up and head-butted him and obviously [the driver] hit back at him with his fist. Robert then pulled a pistol out of the back of his shorts with his right hand and pointed it at the driver’s head. At that moment, I froze. The patient I had been treating also saw what happened. Then a woman came and separated the men and he put the pistol away. 

"I didn’t feel safe at all at that point and I started filming on the ambulance’s mobile phone.”

The nurse also described the pistol as having a silver slider and a black handle.

“I heard the man say ‘you don’t joke around with the Red Cross. Let them work. We will come after your family too.’ The threat was captured on video,” she said.

Brincau had walked over to the ambulance, said the witness. “He said, ‘I know you’re filming.’”

The nurse briefly stopped her testimony in order to compose herself.

“I also confirm that I saw the gun as well, because the patient also told me ‘is that how the ambulance crews come now? With guns?”

Drew pistol from back of his shorts

The nurse, too, said Brincau had drawn the pistol from the back of his shorts.

Shown the weapon in court today, the witness said she could not confirm that it was the actual weapon used, but confirmed that it looked similar.

Tonna Lowell raised several objections to the prosecution’s direct questions, during the witness’ cross-examination. The law only permits the defence to ask such questions, he pointed out. “Especially in this case, where we are saying there was a false report.”

The footage shot by the nurse was played in open court today, on the courtroom’s big screen monitor. Initially the footage is out of focus, but a female voice can be heard shouting “I will not get in it again… Exactly let them do their job, we don’t want any trouble” ("Ma nergax nirkeb fih. Ezatt hallihom jaghmlu xogholhom, ma rridux inkwiet.")

The camera then focuses on Brincau, wearing a white T-shirt. He is seen remonstrating with someone just out of shot, but clearly very close by. At a point Brincau leans in, to what appears to be touching distance, of the other person.

Tonna Lowell asked the witness to describe how Brincau had approached the private ambulance crew.

“He walked up to us aggressively… his walk, he was ready for us,” she said.

The lawyer asked her to explain how she knew this.

“When someone comes to speak to you he doesn’t come ready to strike you. He walked up, boom, hit him.”

Tonna Lowell asked how her colleague had reacted.

“He hit him back. Like this,” the witness said, demonstrating a roundhouse punch with her right arm. “Self-defence,” she stated.

The blow had connected with Brincau’s cheek, she said. Tonna Lowell pointed out that the witness had previously mimed being punched on the forehead, and then the eye, before indicating her cheek.

“He put his right arm behind his back and pulled out a gun and put it to [the driver’s] head,” she testified. 

The witness was asked what she had done after that. She had filmed the situation on the ambulance pager, she replied. “So, you chose to film instead of helping your colleague?” accused the lawyer.

“I haven’t been trained for these situations,” protested the witness. “I had only just graduated. I was terrified.”

She had filmed the incident for her own safety, her colleague's safety and that of the patient, she later said. 

But the lawyer continued to press the nurse on why she hadn’t called the police immediately. Eventually, the magistrate intervened, telling the lawyer that the witness had already given her reasons.

The nurse had not heard what the accused and her colleague were saying while they were walking together. Tonna Lowell asked whether she had photographed the handgun tucked into the back of the accused’s shorts as they walked away. “I froze,” replied the witness. “Did you or didn’t you, yes or no?” demanded the lawyer. “No.”

“It’s convenient to freeze when you could have called the police, didn’t speak to police at the scene and didn’t photograph the weapon,” said the lawyer testily. 

The next witness, the woman who had been in the ambulance receiving treatment for a hornet sting, told the court that from inside the vehicle she had seen the two men arguing. “They started to argue, but I didn’t hear the words. I heard someone say ‘din id-darba għaddiet imma li jmiss kbira tkun,’ ("I'm going to let it slide this time, but if it happens again there will be serious consequences") something like that.”

At one point the man arguing came up to the nurse and told her ‘I saw you filming m’,” said the woman.

“I’m not sure if it was the nurse who told me ‘are you seeing what I’m seeing?’ I looked out of the window and he had a gun, stuffed in the back of his bermudas. It was a pistol,” she said.

The witness said that she, too, had seen the weapon’s handgrip protruding from the man’s shorts. The nurse had been shocked, she went on to say.

The next day, the police had called her to go to the police station to make a declaration about the incident, she said.

Threatening phone calls

The final witness was Charlton Caruana, who told the court that he was the owner and director of Alpha Medical, a private company which had provided private medical and ambulance services in Malta since 2013. His company also provides lifeguards, doctors and emergency medical transport, he said.

Asked about his company’s involvement with Malta Red Cross, Caruana said that his company had bid for and won a tender for lifeguard services issued by MTA, in 2017.

“Since taking over the tender from Malta Red Cross, I started to receive threatening phone calls from Brincat because we had turfed him out.”

Whenever staff from Alpha Medical and Malta Red Cross would come into contact with each other on work engagements, “there would be pique,” he said.

The tender had been issued after the MTA had noted that ambulances were not keeping up with demand in peak tourist season, Caruana said, confirming that Alpha Medical and Malta Red Cross were competitors, but that Malta Red Cross had not competed for the MTA tender.

The witness testified to having contacted Brincau after finding several missed calls from him. “When I returned the call, [Brincau] started shouting at me to let his people do their work. I explained to him that he is now the prison director and not involved in the Malta Red Cross and, having nothing further to say to him, I hung up.”

He had been sent the video of the incident by his employee, he said. “In the first 7 seconds of the footage, I heard Brincau say “jiena noqtol lilek u lil familja kollha” ("I will kill you and your entire family") and I said we have to go to the police.”

‘If you want to point a gun… point it at me’

“While I was on my way to the police station, I phoned Brincau and told him if he wants to point a gun at someone, he should point it at me and not at my employees. He replied that he didn’t know what I was talking about.”

Inspector Ryan Vella cross-examined the witness, asking about Brincau’s tone on the phone. It was always aggressive, he said. 

The case continues in November.

Lawyer Stephen Tonna Lowell is defence counsel to Brincau. CCF lawyer Mario Mifsud was also present for the sitting. Lawyer Edmund Cuschieri appeared for the alleged victim.