Man denies using knife to fend off group assault, court declares arrest invalid

The court heard that the background to the incident was an ongoing feud between two families 

A 25-year-old man who allegedly held a knife to the throat of a relative who had intervened to stop a five-on-one assault against him, has denied related charges.

Orian Theuma Whitelaw, from Birgu, was arraigned under arrest before magistrate Lara Lanfranco on Tuesday, assisted by lawyer Ishmael Psaila.

Psaila immediately contested the validity of the man’s arrest, pointing out that charges against his client all dealt with contraventions - minor offences which are not arrestable.

Police Inspector Kurt Farrugia explained to the court that the background to the incident was an ongoing feud between two families. As this was the third police report involving the two families, as well as the fact that a knife was allegedly used in this one, it was felt that arraignment under arrest was merited.

The court was told that the defendant had been attacked by a group of five people and had threatened a member of the other family, who had tried to intervene to stop the fight, by holding a knife to his throat, telling him to “keep out of it” or be killed. 

“As this time a weapon was also mentioned, the police felt it necessary to arraign him under arrest in order to protect the victim,” explained the inspector. Police officers went to arrest Theuma Whitelaw at his residence in Birgu but did not find him there. The defendant had later turned himself in at a police station, the court was told.

In reply to a question from Psaila, the inspector confirmed that there had been no arrest warrant, repeating that the police feared that someone would get hurt, as matters were clearly escalating with the introduction of a weapon to the situation.

Psaila dismissed this as an “inflated story” and pointed out that the charges “are what they are” and that Theuma Whitelaw had not committed a hold-up or attempted to run away from the police.

The defence lawyer also pointed out that the weapon allegedly used in the incident was not seen on CCTV and neither had it been found. He remarked that it was odd that in a “five on one” fight only his client had ended up being charged, pointing out that the incident had taken place in a busy road in Marsaskala.

“That a person goes to a police station to say a person put a knife to my neck is not grounds for arrest, because the police have to investigate first,” submitted the lawyer.

Psaila also pointed out that all the offences his client was being accused of committing were, in fact, contraventions.

The magistrate asked the inspector about the weapon and whether it had been found.

Theuma White had gone to the police station on foot and without his mobile phone, said the inspector. “He didn’t answer any questions.”.
When the police carried out a search of his home they did not find the knife in question, he added, adding that it could have easliy been hidden somewhere else.

The court, whilst acknowledging the prosecution’s concerns, after hearing the submissions on the matter and in view of the relevant dispositions of the criminal code, together with the fact that all the charges dealt with contraventions, declared the arrest invalid and ordered Theuma Whitelaw’s release from custody. 

The defendant then pleaded not guilty to the charges. Bail was not required as he was no longer under arrest, but the prosecution requested a protection order for the alleged victims.

The defence did not object to the request, which the court then proceeded to uphold, after explaining its implications and that of any potential breach to the defendant.