Police inspector loses libel case over 'wrongful arrest' report

Court argues that, as a police officer, Inspector Taliana was subject to wider limits of acceptable criticism than a private individual

Police Inspector Elton Taliana has lost a libel case he had instituted against the editor of GWU Sunday paper it-Torca, over its reporting of the arrest of Darryl Luke Borg.

Magistrate Francesco Depasquale delivered judgement in libel proceedings filed in 2013 against former editor of it-Torca, Alexander Farrugia.

The plaintiff argued that the article insinuated that he had failed to act, whilst in the knowledge that the arrest had been illegal.

The newspaper article had alleged that Taliana and inspector Carlos Cordina had committed an error when they successfully charged Darryl Luke Borg in connection with the hold up of a Birkirkara convenience store, but that Inspector Taliana had made the more serious transgression due to his knowledge that Borg had been wrongly imprisoned and his failure to do anything to get him out.

The court was told how two CID Inspectors had carried out an investigation into the hold up in parallel with that of Birkirkara district Inspector Taliana's.

The CID Inspectors, Carlos Cordina and Joseph Mercieca, had arrested Borg two days later. Borg was charged the following day and held in preventive custody, having been denied bail.

As a result, Inspector Taliana was informed that his investigation could be discontinued in view of the fact that a suspect had been caught and arraigned.

Three days later, however, Inspector Taliana was tipped off that it had been a certain Roderick Grech had carried out the hold up. The Inspector duly obtained a warrant for Grech’s arrest and the suspect was apprehended and charged the next day.

Inspector Taliana had withheld the fact that he had arrested Grech on suspicion of the Convenience Store robbery from his superiors, saying only that the man had been arrested in connection with an unspecified hold-up.

Shortly before the arraignment, Inspector Taliana told the duty magistrate that another person had already been charged with the same crime. Taliana had only informed his superiors that Grech had been arraigned in connection with the Convenience Shop robbery after the arraignment.

The court noted that these details had been confirmed in an internal investigation by the police , which had criticised the investigation and pointed to a failure of communication between the CID and district police had serious consequences for Grech.

Inspector Taliana claimed that the article by it-Torca was defamatory as it claimed that he had been failed in his duty towards an innocent person by failing to inform his superiors that he had arrested the real perpetrator so that Borg would be released were defamatory.

Farrugia argued that the article had been factual, constituted fair comment and that readers had a right to know.

The court, presided by Magistrate Francesco Depasquale, upheld Farrugia's argument, holding that, as a police officer, Inspector Taliana was subject to wider limits of acceptable criticism than a private individual.

It also found that the GWU newspaper report was based on verified facts. It was clear that the inspector had known that Darryl Luke Borg had been arraigned. The Magistrate said the inspector failed to report Grech’s arrest to his superiors instead keeping the information to himself, only informing his superiors after Grech's arraignment. It was clear that there were “serious failings” in the police investigation, said the court, which had led to the arrest and detention of an innocent person.