Suspended sentence is court’s ‘strong message’ for man who savagely hit his partner in front of child

Man handed suspended sentence for savagely beating ex-partner as five-year-old daughter looked on. Magistrate says sentence should send ‘strong message to society’

Confusing is perhaps the best way to describe a magistrate’s judgment in which a man received a suspended sentence for savagely beating his partner in front of her daughter.

The perplexingly lenient punishment came at the end of a 20-page judgment describing in detail the crazed violence that the 39-year-old man from Cospicua had inflicted upon the woman.

The judgment was handed down earlier this month by Magistrate Monica Vella and the ruling purportedly had to give a “strong message to society” that such actions are not acceptable.

The man, who is not being named to protect the identity of his former partner and her child, received a one-year prison sentence, suspended for a period of four years and a €4,500 fine for brutally beating and seriously injuring the woman in the presence of her underage daughter. The man had also assaulted and resisted several police officers at the Cospicua police station.

The court had heard how, when the victim had told the defendant that she was breaking up with him, as they sat in his car on their way home, he had grabbed her by the hair, punching her in the head and slamming her head against the dashboard. The verbal and physical assault had taken place in front of the woman’s young daughter. 

The defendant had followed the woman when she had gone to the Cospicua police station to file a report not long after, blood still pouring from a gash on her head.

Inside the station, he had launched a tirade of insults aimed at both the woman and the officers present, before attempting to assault the woman again, this time however, being restrained by the police.

Doctors had classified the victim’s injuries as grievous.

The woman had testified, telling the court that the assault had occurred after they had gone to have a drink in Bugibba. She had told the defendant that their relationship was over because the defendant had just spat in her face at the bar and had made a rude gesture towards her.

At that point, she said, he grabbed her by the hair and repeatedly slammed her head against the car door and the dashboard, before pulling her onto his lap and punching her head.

The woman had begged him to stop the car and let her and the daughter get out, and the man had obliged, while in the Salini area.

But soon after that she got back in the car together with her daughter in a bid to avoid further escalation.

"But after I got in he started hitting me again," she said. 

When they got home, she said, she had fled to the police station, taking the girl with her. The police officers had been shocked at her bloodied appearance, the court was told, and had taken her to a clinic and then to hospital.

The incident so traumatised the woman that she had subsequently received treatment as an in-patient at Mount Carmel Hospital. The child was also treated for shock.

Inspector Eman Hayman had testified about the disturbance at the police station, recalling how the accused had refused to sit down and stop shouting, telling the police that he “doesn’t give a f*** about justice” and wasn’t afraid of the police. He had also threatened to kill the inspector.

When questioned the next day, the man had apologised for his words, claiming not to remember anything about the previous day’s incidents.

The man’s probation officer told the court that he had drug problems in the past which he had overcome, but confirmed that he had persistent anger management issues. 

Finding him guilty of the charges, the court said it had no doubt that the defendant had committed an unprovoked and prolonged assault on the victim inside the car, which had continued even after the woman had returned to his vehicle to prevent concerned onlookers from being assaulted too.

The assault had also happened in the presence of the victim's daughter, who was a minor at the time, noted the court.

Court’s lofty statements not backed by punishment

Magistrate Vella said that she was of the opinion that the version of events described by the victim was credible and consistent, had not been challenged by the defence and had been indirectly corroborated, at least in part, by police officers.

The court observed that the aggression had started in Bugibba and continued throughout the trip to Cospicua, before resuming inside the police station, where it had taken officers another 30 minutes to subdue the accused, who had to be handcuffed.

The court slammed the accused’s behaviour as “unacceptable,” saying that the defendant should not expect to be treated with kid gloves, in the circumstances.

“The members of the police force are there to provide a service and not to be assaulted, neither verbally nor physically and be insulted and threatened. This is not behaviour that should be tolerated,” the magistrate added, saying that this should be reflected in the punishment.

However, despite these lofty statements, the court then proceeded to sentence the man to one year in prison, which was suspended for four years, together with a fine of €4,500, payable in instalments, deciding against imposing “the extreme sanction of effective imprisonment due to the progress that seems to have been made during these proceedings.”

Noting what she described as the defendant’s efforts to improve the situation during the proceedings, the magistrate said she “hoped that the incident would remain an isolated one and that with a little wisdom and more therapy the defendant will continue to seriously control his acute anger problem that affects him in situations when he is under pressure.”

The court said it had “to send a strong message to society that individuals deserve respect and love and not aggression as well as that every person should cooperate immediately with the police.” 

“After all, if the defendant feels that he still needs help, he can, as he is declaring that he has a stable life and that he is well behaved, it is up to him to seek the help that he thinks he really needs.”

The court imposed protection orders in favour of the woman and Inspector Hayman, as well as placing the defendant under a restraining order in favour of the victim for three years. 

Lawyers Franco Debono and Francesca Zarb appeared for the defendant.