Bail breach conviction for accused in ‘Imnieħru’ murders, overturned

The Court of Criminal Appeal declares the conviction and jail sentence handed by the Court of Magistrates to man accused of Mnieħru double murder over a breach of bail to be null

George Galea, one of the men accused of murdering taxi driver Mario Camilleri and his son in 2013
George Galea, one of the men accused of murdering taxi driver Mario Camilleri and his son in 2013

The Court of Criminal Appeal, presided by Madam Justice Consuelo Scerri Herrera, declared the conviction and one year jail sentence handed by the Court of Magistrates to George Galea over a breach of bail to be null.

Galea, 52, from Paola had been on bail awaiting trial, after being indicted in connection with the murders of Mario Camilleri and his son, Mario Jr, in 2013.

In February 2022, the Court of Magistrates found Galea guilty of breaching the bail conditions imposed on him in 2014, driving a car without number plates during the night between 9 and 10 November 2022 and recidivism. Galea was sentenced to imprisonment for one year.

Galea had been intercepted by the police, during the early hours of November 10, by officers responding to a report of a burglary from jewellers in Attard. Police officers followed his car, which was spotted in the area, after noticing that its front and rear number plates had been removed. Police officers had also testified to finding a knife on the car's rear seat.

Galea was later not found to be involved in the burglary but was charged with breaching a curfew imposed as part of bail conditions handed to him by the Criminal Court, just a month prior, as well as conditions of previous bail decrees, dating back to 2014. 

Galea had also been charged with driving an unregistered motor vehicle.

But in a judgement handed down yesterday, the Court of Criminal Appeal said that the court had interpreted the law incorrectly, that police officers had not been consistent in their testimony about the exact time that Galea had been found driving in Żebbuġ after his curfew and that the prosecution had failed to prove who the car (which had no licence plates) had been licensed to. 

The judge noted that a report exhibited by a police sergeant mentioned 2:20am as the time Galea had been found outside and that when he had been granted bail, Galea had told the court that he had found employment that required him to work nights and that he had been on his way home after work at the time his car was stopped by the police. 

The Court of Appeal also observed that the vehicle in question had not been exhibited in evidence, despite having been impounded by the police.

The testimony given by the police officers was not contradicted in any way and therefore, although the Court of Appeal finds no reasons not to believe them, the fact remains that the vehicle in question was not exhibited in evidence, and as a consequence, the charge could not be upheld.

The judge also ruled that Galea had been found guilty under articles of the law which were not cited in the charges, adding that the charges had quoted articles which were irrelevant to the case.

Although nullity had not been pleaded by the defendant, the Court of Appeal decided to declare the judgement null, on its own initiative. The judge said she would be deciding the merits of the case herself.

Lawyer George Anton Buttigieg appeared for the defendant.