Carnival officials deny responsibility for fireworks injury

Technician Juan Vella had suffered minor burns to his face while he had been setting off pyrotechnics during the evening of the 7 February, as part of carnival celebrations

Washing of hands was the order of the day as both Carnival Events Coordinator and the Chairman of the Carnival Council distanced themselves from an incident in which a lighting technician had injured himself whilst launching fireworks from the Presidential Palace in Valletta.

Technician Juan Vella had suffered minor burns to his face while he had been setting off pyrotechnics during the evening of the 7 February, as part of carnival celebrations. He is accused of setting off the fireworks without being in possession of the necessary police licences. The fireworks display itself was covered by a permit.

Police sergeant Alexander Schembri testified that on 7 February 2016 at around 8pm he had been informed that a person had been injured on the roof of the president's palace. At the scene, he had found Civil Protection officers and first-aiders who had been there for the carnival celebrations.

The person had suffered facial burns on an upper floor of the palace.

In his statement to police, Vella said that he had been “forced” to launch the fireworks. Police checks resulted that Vella had no pyrotechnics licence. This morning, police sergeant Bernard Bunce confirmed on oath that no pyrotechnic licences appertaining to the accused had been found.

Investigations revealed that the launching had been licenced to Bernard David Cauchi, who, however, had not been present at the scene.

Inspector Daryl Borg testified that he had spoken to Vella after his release from hospital. Vella had released a statement, saying that he had been working with a lighting company when he was asked by a colleague, Pierre Cachia, to set off some fireworks. He admitted that he had no licence, the inspector said.

Vella's defence counsel, Legal Procurator Peter Paul Zammit asked the witness whether his client was the only person who was being charged in the aftermath of the incident. The inspector replied that criminal proceedings were also planned against both Cauchi and Cachia.

Cachia chose to testify today, explaining that he had been the coordinator of the carnival celebrations. Inspector Borg asked him if the fireworks fell under his remit. It wasn't his job to tell pyrotechnic experts how to do their job, Cachia replied.

He had not been directly involved with the fireworks, Cachia explained, but had appointed firework licencee Bernard Cauchi. He recognised the accused, who he said had constantly been present on the day.

“We went on to the roof, I went to the other side, taking photos.” He had heard the fireworks being set off, he said. Presiding magistrate Joe Mifsud asked whether he had given Vella a role. “As coordinator I didn't give him a role, I only obtained permission for him to access the roof.”

He denied giving Vella any instructions to set off the fireworks. “He came up to me asking if he had anything on his face. I think he let off the fireworks.” Cachia told the court that he had not seen the accused ignite or set off the fireworks, however. He had only provided him access.

Bernard David Cauchi chose not to testify.

Jason Busuttil, chairman of carnival council, disclaimed all knowledge of the details about the incident. He had not given any instructions for fireworks to be let off, “that would be the responsibility of Bernard Cauchi.” “As chairman I don't know what's happening. It is all done by contractor.”

The case continues on 13 June.