Shooter obtained gun licence despite psychiatrist warning police he was 'a danger to the public'

A psychiatrist had written to police to express concern about Noel Azzopardi's access to firearms, now accused of shooting Eric Borg on New Year’s Day, describing him as 'a significant danger to the public,' in 2012 •  Azzopardi successfully applied for a shotgun licence in 2016

Noel Azzopardi
Noel Azzopardi

A psychiatrist at Mount Carmel Hospital had written to the police to express concern that Noel Azzopardi, the man accused of shooting Eric Borg dead in Rabat on New Year’s Day,  had access to several shotguns, describing him as “a significant danger to the public,” twelve years ago.

Inexplicably, however, despite this assessment in 2012, Azzopardi had successfully applied for a shotgun licence in 2016 and it was only on February 20 this year, nearly two months after the murder, that the Commissioner of Police had sent Azzopardi a letter informing him that his shotgun licence was being revoked.

Psychiatrist Dr. Joseph Cassar testified to having found this note in the defendant’s medical file as the compilation of evidence against Azzopardi continued before magistrate Marseanne Farrugia.

Cassar had been appointed by the inquiring magistrate to examine the defendant to assess whether he was fit for interrogation.

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Reading out the certificate in court today, the doctor said the defendant had understood the charges, the facts and the potential punishment he faced. Notwithstanding this, he said, he had also noted that Azzopardi was probably affected by a “cognitive deficit” and was in a paranoid state.

Prosecutor Darlene Grima asked the psychiatrist about his conclusions and whether he had made any recommendations after examining and speaking with the defendant.

“He told us that he had a long history of psychiatric illness and institutionalisation,” replied the psychiatrist. Azzopardi had specified the exact date of his admission to Mount Carmel Hospital.

Cassar said that he had recommended that Azzopardi undergo neuropsychological testing to identify any possible underlying conditions, such as autism.

Cross-examined by defence lawyer Arthur Azzopardi, the doctor confirmed the name of the neuropsychologist that he had recommended - one of only two currently working in Malta. The neuropsychologist in question would have to speak to the defendant’s family in order to establish his developmental history, something which only his parents could provide, he said.

Also giving evidence today was Inspector Godwin Scerri. Relatives of the victim silently wiped away tears as the inspector described going to the crime scene, where he had found RIU officers and paramedics who informed him that nothing could be done to save the victim, certifying Borg dead.

The victim’s father had been informed of his son’s death and was asked whether he knew of anyone who might have had disputes him. “Although still in shock, he said there was a certain Noel who might have had a problem with the victim, relating to some fields in Buskett.”

Some time later, police on the scene were informed by the Rabat police station that a man named Noel had gone to the police station accompanied by two men and was asking to give information about the murder.

Noting the second mention of the name Noel, the inspector had rushed to the police station, finding Noel Azzopardi together with his father and another male relative. The inspector and two officers had taken him to a quieter part of the police station to ask what he wanted to say.

Azzopardi said he wanted to talk “about what happened,” specifying when pressed, that it was about the Rabat shooting.

“I asked him ‘did you do something?’ and he replied ‘yes, I shot him,’” recalled the inspector.

“As soon as he said those words I stopped him from speaking, and informed him that he was under arrest, and that he had a right to be assisted by a lawyer.”

Searches of the residence which he shared with his father retrieved six shotguns registered in Azzopardi’s name, together with another three shotguns registered to his father, he said.

The inspector added that the court experts had told him that Borg had died of hypovolemic shock due to the laceration of his right lung and right side of his heart and had died at the scene, “more or less instantly.”

Although initially reluctant to answer any questions, as time passed, Azzopardi eventually started to cooperate with the police and had eventually released a statement, all the while assisted by his lawyers.

The suspect told the police that he had gone to his field that day and for some reason had felt offended by another person. “He never gave us the exact reason,” but said that after this person, whom he only identified as Eric Borg later, after being shown a photograph of the victim, he had driven to Triq Fidloqqom and spotted Borg. Then he had loaded a shotgun that was in his car and made it ready. After shooting Borg once, he saw that he was still moving and so he had shot him again, he told the police, claiming to have done so out of fear that Borg would attack him.

Azzopardi went on to tell the police that he had shot the victim because Borg had once told him “don’t interfere in my work or I’ll get you back.” This was not the way to speak to people, the defendant had told interrogators.

The case was adjourned to April.

Azzopardi is being represented by lawyers Arthur Azzopardi, Jacob Magri and Alex Miruzzi.

Inspector Wayne Camilleri is prosecuting, together with lawyer Kaylie Bonett from the Office of the Attorney General.

Lawyers Joe Giglio and Michela Giglio, are representing the family of the victim as parte civile.