Bernard Grech testifies on PN club snub during Ħamrun feast

Opposition leader Bernard Grech testifies in compilation of evidence against the man accused of grievously injuring a PN supporter during the San Gejtanu feast celebrations in Ħamrun last summer

Nationalist leader Bernard Grech and his wife Anne Marie watch on from the balcony of the St Joseph band club in Ħamrun
Nationalist leader Bernard Grech and his wife Anne Marie watch on from the balcony of the St Joseph band club in Ħamrun

PN leader Bernard Grech has told a court that he had not seen an assault at the party's club in Ħamrun that left a PN activist grievously injured, claiming to have been walking away after understanding that he ought to keep his distance from the premises, "to avoid trouble."

The compilation of evidence against the man accused of grievously injuring a PN supporter at the San Gejtanu feast celebrations in Ħamrun last summer continued before magistrate Caroline Farrugia Frendo on Tuesday.

48-year-old Andrew Attard from Ħamrun stands accused of assaulting Noel Mifsud Bonnici and causing him grievous injury. Mifsud Bonnici suffered a torn knee ligament and had to be hospitalised as a result of the assault, which took place moments after Grech was reportedly turned away from the club.

Attard is denying the charges.

The leader of the Nationalist Party, Bernard Grech, was first on the witness stand. Before he could begin testifying, Attard’s defence lawyer, Charles Mercieca, told the court that none of the previous witnesses had mentioned Grech as being present. The court, however, observed that the Attorney General had requested Grech’s testimony and that it was bound by this request.

“What I can say is that on the day when Noel Mifsud Bonnici was injured… I, together with my wife, had carried out a number of visits to clubs in Ħamrun," Grech told the court. "Near the PN club in Ħamrun, I had a discussion with someone and then, because I understood that I should keep my distance and because I’m not the type of person who likes to cause trouble, we turned around and started to walk away. As we walked away, we heard a commotion behind us,” Grech told the court.

A few minutes later, someone informed him that Mifsud Bonnici had been hurt, and so Grech had gone to the club to see what had happened, he said.

“I found him lying on the ground, face up. I went to talk to him and he told me ‘I can’t get up. My legs aren’t working.’ He told me to carry on with my work in the Party,” Grech said.

He insisted that he hadn’t seen the alleged assault take place, telling the court that although the street hadn’t been very crowded, he did not have line of sight to the place where the incident occurred. 

Lawyer George Camilleri, representing Mifsud Bonnici as parte civile, asked Grech who had told him about the incident.

“Manuel, who had been at the club. I know he is part of the committee and was once the barman of the club a number of years ago.” The man in question is understood to be the defendant’s uncle.

“Manuel seemed surprised that I was there. He told me it wasn’t a good time for me to be there. He said ‘wouldn’t it be better if you don’t go inside? There are a number of Labour supporters inside, so something could happen.’” Grech said.

The victim had been beside Grech and had walked some of the way to the club with him, he said. Grech sidestepped a question about the words exchanged before the incident.

“What was important for me at the time was that there were no issues. Many things were said, but I can’t say exactly who said what. But the words ‘what do you mean the Leader can’t go in?’ were definitely said,” recalled the Leader of the Opposition.

The court intervened to stop Grech from answering another question by Camilleri, who asked what had led him to leave the club, saying the witness had already given an answer. 

The lawyer protested that throughout this case, he had “not been allowed to ask one question uninterrupted”, complaining that this was not allowing him to extract the information he intended to obtain from the witnesses’ testimony.

Grech said that he had heard a “loud sound” a couple of metres behind him as he was trying to leave the club, together with his wife, security guard, driver and two other men.

“Noel and I have long been in regular contact, more so after the incident,” added the PN leader, telling the court that he had also visited the victim in hospital in the days after the incident. “He was in a room alone, in pain,” Grech said, adding that they were in regular contact over the phone.

Mercieca did not have any questions for Grech.

One of Grech’s security guards, Norman Cremona, testified next. He told the court that a “bit of an argument” had broken out at the door of the club about whether Grech should go inside or not. 

Cremona said he did not know who had assaulted Mifsud Bonnici, but confirmed that he had seen the commotion, which, he said, had lasted a matter of seconds, before seeing Mifsud Bonnici on the ground.

“I told Noel not to make things worse (“ma ntawlux diskors”).” When he turned around, he found Mifsud Bonnici on the floor, said the witness, adding that he had not seen any assault.

Cremona’s brother, Jesmond, took the stand as the next witness.

He told the court that during the feast on 13 August 2023, he had been with his brother Norman and a friend in Hamrun. They had gone together with the rest of Grech’s group to the PN club, he said. “As we approached the door, there was a person who I don’t know, but was a big man, who blocked our way in.” 

Other people were going in and out, he said. “I remember that a commotion broke out and people started pushing. When things calmed down, I spoke to the big man and asked him why we weren’t allowed in. He told us that [that day] we could not go inside and to find somewhere else to go.” The big man had then stopped a woman who had come up to Cremona and started pushing him, he said.

“Someone came up behind me and told me that one of our group was on the ground. I turned around and saw Noel Mifsud Bonnici on the ground, across the street. He was taken away by ambulance.” 

He remembered observing Mifsud Bonnici to have been in pain, shouting “my knee, my knee!” The witness recalled the man as saying that someone had kicked his knee.

Asked by Mercieca whether he recognised anyone in the courtroom, Cremona said he did not. 

After the last witness stepped off the stand, the magistrate made reference to Camilleri’s earlier complaint about his submissions being interrupted and invited Camilleri to take any complaints he had about her to the Commission for the Administration of Justice. “I don’t interrupt here, I am trying to bring out the truth,” she said.

The case continues in March.