Police rape trial: Officer tells court of unwanted compliments and sexual advances

On the second day of the trial of a former police officer charged with raping and sexually molesting two colleagues, the court hears the second victim testify

The Msida police station where an officer allegedly raped and sexually molested two female colleagues
The Msida police station where an officer allegedly raped and sexually molested two female colleagues

A policewoman has described receiving unwanted compliments and sexual advances from an ex constable on trial over accusations of sexually assaulting her and raping her colleague.

The officer, who cannot be named, at the order of the court, went on to describe herself and the rest of her shift as being stigmatised because of the charges.
Testifying from a separate room via video link, the witness described a number of incidents where she had received unwelcome advances from the accused.

She said the accused had grabbed her thigh whilst sitting beside her in a police car, and on another occasion had kissed her on the cheek unbidden, while they had been on duty inside a police station. The woman, who was 19 at the time, said she had also turned down his invitation to join him on a weekend break.

Prosecuting lawyer Darlene Grima asked the witness about the incident in the police car. “While he was talking, his hand would end up on my thigh, above the knee… he was grabbing. It wasn’t a mistake made in passing,” the witness insisted, adding this happened at least three times.

The witness was still a new recruit at the time and had asked him to stop so she could get out of the car. “His reply was always a smile,” she said.

The defendant would put his hand on her seat as she was getting into the car so that she would end up sitting on his hand. It happened repeatedly, she explained. “I told him once, twice, three times…”

The defendant had complimented her buttocks, she said. “I thought he was joking and the shift would pass and that would be it.”

She had joined the police force in December 2017. “I thought I was handling it. I was a new officer, and I didn’t want to get into trouble or get stuck with a label.” 

“To be a woman on shift was already something. There aren’t many women in the police so we are a minority… if I were not believed, I would be stuck with a label… for the next 25 years of service. I already have one now.”

The witness had decided to report the defendant to her inspector after speaking to the other alleged victim and realising that something was wrong.

The prosecuting lawyer asked the witness about being labelled.  “If he is acquitted…” began the witness, but was interrupted by defence lawyer Edward Gatt, who complained that the witness was overstepping the boundaries of what she could testify about.

“The victim must tell us what happened to her,” rebutted prosecuting lawyer Angele Vella.

When the raised voices died down, the witness continued. “I asked for a transfer to anywhere but Sliema or Gzira, because I was shunned by everyone.”

‘I thought these were normal things’

She was eventually transferred to another unit and later promoted to sergeant.
“In the force you never know exactly what your job is, you obey your seniors and avoid getting the shift in trouble,” she said. “At the time I didn’t think that anything was wrong [about the defendant’s compliments]… I thought these were normal things that I would encounter in my service.”

The witness said that in his message inviting her for a weekend break, the accused told her that it wasn’t for sex but to get to know her better. She refused anyway. “I told him, of course not.” 

The conversations would stop when other people were present, observed the witness. 

She testified that the other victim, who testified yesterday about how she was abused and raped, had not told her what had happened to her in any detail. “To this day I don’t know exactly what happened. She would just warn me to be careful,” said the witness.
The witness said she had refused various offers of leave and assistance by the police force. “I felt I should carry on, also not to look bad with my shift… I felt it better to step back,” she said.

Cross-examined by defence lawyer Edward Gatt about the thigh-grabbing incident, she said that she had told the accused if he did it again she’d hit him. “In the first place, he was not supposed to leave the Msida station because he was the orderly.”

Gatt asked about an incident where she had complained of back pain. The accused had offered to massage her and she had declined saying she would go to a professional and that she “already had a sponsor.”

“Did you realise that the defendant fancied you?” asked the lawyer. “If he had, he would have offered to take me home after work, not during work hours,” she replied.

The lawyer suggested that she had always testified that before the other alleged victim had come to talk to her, the witness had “taken all this as a joke and that you had shown him that you were not up for this type of joke.”

“Before, I thought it was a joke and as I already said, I thought I was handling it,” she replied.

“So that which was a joke to you, stopped being so after [the other victim] spoke to you,” the lawyer interjected. The witness agreed.

“And you did handle it, because what allegedly happened to your colleague didn’t happen to you,” stated the lawyer.

Asked about her relationship with the other alleged victim, she said that they were “colleagues, not friends.”

Gatt read out a transcript of her testimony before the Court of Magistrates, where the magistrate had asked whether they were good friends. “You had replied, ‘no, understand me, rather the opposite. Before this incident, we worked a shift together. There had been certain problems during the shift. We had been working together, kind of because we had to. We didn’t talk to each other much.’”

“Our relationship improved,” said the witness, “but we aren’t bosom buddies, I don’t think we will ever be because we have the same character.”

Asked what she meant by this, she explained “they would tell me that I was hard headed and she was also hard headed.”

The lawyer asked whether [victim 1] could have been offended by the fact that the other officers might have been protective of [victim 2] as she had been the new recruit. 

Prosecutor Angele Vella objected to the question. “She can’t answer for someone else. Why didn’t you ask this to [victim 1]?”.

The witness described the other alleged victim as a loner but said she didn’t think she had a problem specifically with her. “It was her character to be a bit antisocial. I don’t think it was against me personally.”
The witness continued: “With my shift, she would isolate herself. The others would say that they saw her as isolated. The competition, if you want to call it that, would be between her and myself because we were the two women in front-facing roles.” But she did not know of any feuds between her and the other female officer.
She confirmed that she wouldn’t have reported the incidents had she not been spoken to by the other alleged victim. “Those incidents I wouldn’t have reported. I was handling it. It could have been because we were two women and drew strength from each other’s courage.”

Police officers testify

A number of other police witnesses then testified.

A representative from the human resources department confirmed that the defendant had no disciplinary offences on his record.

A male constable who worked with [victim 1] said he would not be at the police station often but said that he hadn’t seen anything untoward when he was there. “Everyone was on good terms and I never saw any fighting in front of me.”

The second victim had told him about being assaulted at the police station, describing it as being “out of the blue.” The first victim, who had testified yesterday, had also told him about her concerns at the Msida police station.

He confirmed having discussed the case with his colleagues after they had received summons to testify, but insisted that the conversation revolved around shift management.

Under cross-examination by lawyer Edward Gatt, the witness described his grilling at police headquarters, telling the court that inspectors Mark Mercieca and Joseph Busuttil and three other officers, two of them female, had been with him in a small room.

“I felt intimidated actually, not traumatised,” he testified. “Their behaviour was good, I can’t say it wasn’t. But I didn’t feel comfortable. Not like when I released my statement at internal affairs with my lawyer present.” He explained that on that occasion he had been told that he could bring his lawyer, unlike at depot.
Pressed by the lawyer, the officer told the court that contrary to what she had testified yesterday, the first alleged victim had only spoken to him twice. 

A third male constable stationed at the Msida police station also took the witness stand today. He had been a serving police officer for the past 12 years, he said.

He had received a notification to go to the inspectors office and he had called [victim 1] to see whether there was any problem. “She told me that [the accused] had raped her at the police station and forced her to perform oral sex on him.”

The judge asked the witness why he hadn’t told the court of magistrates about the fact that she had opened up to him. 

Gatt, too, pointed out that he had never said this in court before.

The judge read out his testimony in April 2018, a month after the arraignment. Asked whether the first victim had ever spoken to him about the accused “you replied ‘with regards [the accused] nothing out of this world.’ This is why I’m asking.”

The witness said he would often be stationed in Paceville and she would ask him to swap shifts with her. She had never objected to being in the same police station as the defendant, he said.
“This is what you said just a month after the incident. Why are you coming here five years later telling me that she had opened up to you.”

The witness explained that she had only told him this after he had already testified before the court of magistrates. 

Grima asked the witness whether he had spoken to anyone about this case. “With workmates, even without wanting to, you end up talking about it, reopening the wound and seeing the Msida police station splashed over the newspapers.”

Asked by the judge about a meal he had mentioned the whole police station as having attended, he recalled the alleged rape victim had arrived late, when they had already started eating. She had acted normally and had carried on as normal, he said. 

The witness confirmed that he had read news reports about yesterday’s sitting and had spoken with at least five officers, including one officer who had been mentioned by name on other news portals. “We said oh here we go again, we are going to start again from scratch. We tried not to discuss the issue. To be honest, we teased [the officer she said she kissed] because we hadn’t known about that before.”

Asked about a wedding that took place last summer, he replied that the “entire shift” was there.

Under cross-examination, he agreed that he had been surprised at what the alleged victim who testified yesterday had told him, but had not disclosed it to anyone as she had already informed the inspector. “Had she told me about it before telling the inspector, I would have sent it up the chain of command. I’m not going to carry it myself. But she had spoken to inspector Mercieca.”

The trial was suspended for lunch and will resume in the afternoon.

Lawyers Angele Vella and Darlene Grima are prosecuting on behalf of the Office of the Attorney General.

The defendant is being represented by lawyers Edward Gatt and Franco Debono, while lawyers Lara Dimitriyevic and Stephanie Caruana are appearing for the victims.