FKNK secretary general’s brother was filmed giving child shotgun

Witness also tells court of boy’s lucky escape after shotgun went off next to his head by mistake

A BirdLife official testified about having observed and filmed a hunter who was allowing a child to handle and fire a shotgun in Mizieb.

The NGO’s Head of Conservation, Nicholas Barbara, took the witness stand as the compilation of evidence against Julian Xriha continued before Magistrate Elaine Mercieca on Tuesday. Xriha’s brother Daniel is the secretary general of the Federation for Hunting and Conservation (FKNK).

Barbara told the court he had been accompanying two BirdLife volunteers in the Miżieb area of Mellieha on April 3, 2021, the last day of that year’s hunting season. “The spring hunting season for quail was open at the time and the area was popular with hunters. At the time, the hunting of turtle doves was not permitted,” he said.

He had arrived in the area at around 6am, he said. At around 7:45 am, he had noticed a person inside a hunting hide (known as a “dura” in Maltese) around 200-250 metres away. “I turned the camera on and, as I zoomed in, I realised that there were, in fact, two persons inside the hide.”

“I realised that the second person was a boy, less than 16 years old. The adult guided the boy to shoot at something low on the ground. I couldn’t see what the target was, but I heard the shot,” Barbara explained, also exhibiting photographs of what he had seen.

He had informed the police after establishing the exact location of the hide. When the police arrived, they found two persons inside the hide – the accused and the minor, and one of the shotguns.

At one point the footage showed the accused handling the weapon incorrectly, causing a negligent discharge of one of the shotguns, which went off close to the boy’s head. Luckily, the boy was unharmed, but the video shows him holding his ears, the witness said. Barbara also exhibited stills from the footage.

“Later, when the police arrived, the other volunteers told me that they had seen the accused leave the hide for some time, before returning,” Barbara said. The witness explained that he suspected that this could have been an attempt to hide the second shotgun. The police had, in fact, only recovered one shotgun from the hide, but after this was pointed out to them, a wider search recovered the second shotgun hidden in a bush some distance away from the hide.

Prosecuting police inspector Eliott Magro asked the witness who he had seen firing the shotgun. “The son,” Barbara replied.

A police officer from the Environment Protection Unit who had been on duty on the day in question, took the stand next. The footage he was shown was clear, he said. “There was a boy, an adolescent, in a hide accessible by a ladder, holding a firearm and firing it.”

The officer had then approached the hide, noting two persons inside and around it. He recognised them from the footage previously shown to him by the BirdLife team, he said. “I asked Mr Xriha for his documents and told him he had the right to remain silent and the right to speak to a lawyer.” Xriha did not ask to be assisted by a lawyer, he said.

Xriha told the officer that his son had shot at some cans, he said. Xriha’s Beretta shotgun and hunting licence were seized.

A police constable who had been stationed at the EPU at the time confirmed the account given by the previous witness, from the stand. He, too, recalled the accused as saying that the minor had been shooting at cans, he said.

The defence requested the court order a social inquiry report into the accused’s circumstances be drawn up. The prosecution did not object to the request, which the court then upheld.

The case was adjourned to April for the defence to submit its evidence.

Defence lawyer Kathleen Calleja Grima represented the accused.