Stolen torch, tattoos led to suspect's arrest over garage complex arson

Stolen torch and distinctive hand tattoos help police confirm the identity of a suspected arsonist

File photo
File photo

A stolen torch and distinctive hand tattoos helped police confirm the identity of a suspected arsonist, a court has been told.

The compilation of evidence against Ion Busuioc, 24, from Romania, continued on Friday before magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech. Busuioc stands charged with voluntarily starting a fire at an underground garage beneath an apartment complex in Sliema last month, destroying at least two vehicles.

First to testify today were two police officers who were first on the scene of the blaze at Guze Howard Street in Sliema. Residents in the apartment block overlying the garage complex had to be evacuated and were checked for smoke inhalation by medical staff. Civil Protection Department personnel then inspected the building before declaring it safe and allowing the occupants to return.

Police inspector Mario Xiberras prosecuting on behalf of the Criminal Investigations Department, also testified, telling the court how officers had been called out to a report of a fire in the four-storey garage complex. Duty magistrate Nadine Lia was conducting an inquiry into the fire and had appointed various experts to assist, he said. 

CCTV footage recovered as part of the investigation, showed that it was not a simple fire but an arson attack, he said.  “The footage showed a person entering the complex at ground level, making his way into several garages and breaking into cars. One of the items stolen from one of those cars was later found at the accused’s residence, said the inspector.

A handprint was also recovered from a broken car window.

The footage showed the same man leaving another garage, followed by a bright flash of fire. The BMW car and KTM motorcycle inside that garage were destroyed in the fire. 

Officers had later spotted a person matching Busioc’s description, down to a tattoo on his hand, and the order was given for an arrest to be made. 

Police carried out a search of Busioc’s room in the three-star Sliema hotel where he lived.

A tracksuit similar to that worn by the arsonist, a pair of sneakers also similar to the arsonist’s and the stolen torch were found in his hotel room.

During police questioning, Busuioc had recognised himself in the footage, telling his interrogators that he didn’t know why he did what he did, Xiberras said, adding that the footage showed Busuioc to be the only person inside the garage complex in the hour before the fire started.

Cross-examined by defence lawyer Leontine Calleja, the inspector said the man was not seen to be carrying anything when he had entered the garage complex. Asked how Busuioc had started the fire, the inspector said the court expert would be better placed to answer that question. 

A court-appointed medical expert had established that the man was not in a state of insanity at the time of the offence and that any psychiatric symptoms had started after Busuioc was taken into custody.

The defence requested an adjournment to explore the possibility of reaching a plea deal with the prosecution.