Two charged with three thefts from a petrol station in the span of five days

Two men caught on CCTV camera stealing from a petrtol station have been remanded in custody

Two thieves targeted the same Santa Venera petrol station three times within the space of five days (File photo)
Two thieves targeted the same Santa Venera petrol station three times within the space of five days (File photo)

Two men have been remanded in custody after being charged in connection with three thefts from the same petrol station that took place in the space of five days.

Alexander Gialanze Whiteford, 40, from Vittoriosa and Karl Ciantar, 33, of Tarxien were arraigned before Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech on Friday, charged with aggravated theft and criminal damage. 

Gialanze Whiteford was additionally accused of driving a car without a licence or insurance cover, breaching bail conditions handed to him in February, committing an offence during the operative period of a suspended sentence and recidivism.

Ciantar also faced further charges, relating to violating the conditions of a conditional discharge which he received in November 2021, breaching a previous set of bail conditions and recidivism.

The men, both of whom told the court that they were unemployed, entered not guilty pleas.

Police Inspectors Sarah Zerafa and Elisia Scicluna prosecuted. They charged the men with damaging equipment and stealing cash and other items from the petrol station in Canon Road, Santa Venera during the early hours of December 19 and 21. Ciantar alone was accused of striking the petrol station a third time on December 23 around 1am.

Lawyer George Anton Buttigieg represented Gialanze Whiteford, while lawyer Francesca Zarb appeared for Ciantar.

Inspector Scicluna, replying to a question by Gialanze Whiteford’s defence counsel, explained to the court that police investigations into reports of thefts targeting the same Santa Venera petrol station had led to suspicions of his involvement. A warrant for his arrest was issued by the duty magistrate.

Subsequently, on 26 December, the police received information that Gialanze Whiteford was inside an apartment in Gzira, where he was found in the company of a woman. He was taken into custody and the apartment was searched. 

While under arrest, the man had asked for medical treatment, and after being examined by a doctor was transferred to Mount Carmel Hospital for treatment, under police guard. He was later granted police bail while investigations continued.

He was declared medically fit for interrogation at the facility and was re-arrested. 

Buttigieg contested the validity of the arrest, arguing that as the accused man had been re-arrested at the same hospital where he was being treated, there had not been an effective release from arrest. 

The lawyer suggested that his client had been prevented from leaving the hospital by medical staff who told him that the police were on their way.

After suspending the sitting briefly to decree on the issue, Magistrate Frendo Dimech declared the arrest to be valid. Having reviewed the submissions and the documents relating to Gialanze Whiteford’s arrest, the court ruled that he had been effectively released from police custody and had then been treated at Mount Carmel Hospital without an order for his detention.

Ciantar’s lawyer, Francesca Zarb, informed the court that release from arrest was not being requested for her client at this stage. Buttigieg, however, requested bail for Gialanze Whiteford. The prosecution objected to the request.

Buttigieg argued that his client was presumed innocent at this stage and had not been proven guilty. “I am informed that the only evidence against Whiteford is footage from a CCTV camera… apart from inability to tamper with evidence, the fact that a person is arrested simply because he was seen on CCTV at the time an offence is committed is unnecessary as he was not doing anything at the time.”

No civilian witnesses had been indicated by the prosecution and so there was no risk of suborning them, submitted the lawyer. “The evidence available so far is all in the police’s hands, if any investigations are underway we don’t know about them.”

Inspector Zerafa rebutted that Gialanze Whiteford’s criminal record showed that he was not trustworthy. He was already on bail at the time of the offence as well as under a suspended sentence from June last year and was now being charged with breaching them, said the inspector, pointing out that he had also been found to be residing at a different address to those specified in his bail conditions.

In his rejoinder, Buttigieg noted that the only issue was evidently trustworthiness. He repeated that the allegations of his client having breached his bail conditions were not yet proven and that the accused’s criminal record is only taken into consideration when calibrating punishment. “It’s only a record of what he has done in the past. It’s not evidence of what he will do if released on bail,” said the lawyer.

The court also had tools to minimise the impact of untrustworthiness, by setting onerous guarantees or deposits, he said.

The court, after taking into account the nature of the crimes he was charged with, his “voluminous and ornate” criminal record, the fact that he was unemployed and had no way of assuring the court that he could offer adequate guarantees, rejected the request for bail. “Above all, the court observes that the accused gives no peace of mind about having the requisite trustworthiness for bail, even at such an early stage of proceedings.”

Both men were remanded in custody.