Three acquitted of taking the law into their own hands

Three employees who took tools from their former employer in lieu of unpaid salaries were acquitted of theft and of taking the law in their hands.

Samuel Schembri, 46, of Zebbug, George Debono, 38, of Qormi, and Brian Baguley, 31, of Mosta, were cleared of charges of theft and taking the law in their hands, after the court ruled their case was time barred.

The three were employees of Carmelo Spiteri Ltd. However in 2008, their salaries were not paid. The men chased their boss to settle, to no avail.

After Spiteri ceased communicating with the three, the accused called at his yard and took off with a pick-up truck containing tools. They unloaded the tools in a garage and left the van in a parking area in Zejtun. The tools were shared amongst the three.

On 29 August 2011, another two employees noticed that the van was missing from the yard and informed their boss, who filed a police report. CCTV footage of the yard showed the three accused, identified by their former employer. The three were arrested and released a statement admitting to the theft. The van and the majority of the tools were returned to Spiteri.

Samuel Schembri, George Debono and Brian Baguley were charged with aggravated theft, handling stolen property and trespassing. Debono was also charged with breaching bail conditions and Baguley was charged with relapsing.

During the proceedings, the former employer confirmed there were outstanding payments for salaries. He also informed the court that he forgave the three men.

While confirming their guilt, the accused explained that they did not take the tools for the sake of stealing but in lieu of the salaries owed to them.

Magistrate Doreen Clarke ruled that the men had no intention of stealing. “This is a case where the accused took the law in their own hands ('ragion fattasi'), believing it was the only way that justice could be served. It is not actual theft”, the magistrate said.

During the sitting of 4 November 2013, the prosecution asked for a correction in the charges, which was upheld. However the Court decreed that the charge of ragion fattasi had a time bar of two years, which had by then expired.

Magistrate Clarke acquitted the three men, saying that their charge was time barred.

Inspectors Michael Mallia and Silvana Zrinzo Azzopardi while lawyers Edward Gatt and David Camilleri