Man accused of harming elderly woman named "is-Sufu" as his accomplice, court told

The court start hearing witnesses in the trial against Joseph Xuereb, accused of robbing three elderly women, injuring one of them, in snatch-and-grab attacks • Police inspector says accused named Silvio Camilleri, "is-Sufu" as accomplice, but police could not charge him for lack of evidence

Madame Justice Edwina Grima has begun hearing witnesses in the trial of Joseph Xuereb from Birzebbugia, who is accused of robbing three elderly women in 2012 and grievously injuring one of them.

Xuereb, who has previous convictions for theft, stands accused of theft aggravated by violence and the value of the items stolen.

The trial nearly didn't start at all after the attorney general filed an urgent court application – late last week – asking for the trial to be put off sine die (with no appointed date for resumption) as it needed to exhibit more evidence.

The request was shot down by Xuereb's lawyers, Arthur Azzopardi and Franco Debono.

On Monday, police inspector Tony Cachia told the judge how on 15 September 2012 he had been on duty when a so-called snatch and grab theft was reported at his station.

The elderly victim had told the officer that she had been walking along Triq ix-Xatt in Sliema after running some errands, when someone had come up behind her and said something she didn't understand.

As she turned to see what the matter was, the robber, who was wearing baseball cap and was at least 30 years old, tore off the necklace she had been wearing and fled.

A second eyewitness, Victor Cordina, told the inspector that he had been sweeping the pavement on the day in question, when he heard a woman screaming for help. He saw a man running down the road and getting into the passenger seat of a blue Peugeot 405.

The inspector had run a check on the number plate reported but the car did not match the description in the database.

“About two hours later we received another report of a snatch and grab attack in Triq Hilderbrand Oakes in Gzira. Another elderly lady had been tapped on the shoulder and had her necklace taken when she turned her head.”

Although the second incident did not mention a Peugeot, another eyewitness had given police a partial registration number, which was traced to a certain Marvic Portelli.

When contacted, Portelli told police that he had sold the vehicle to a certain Joseph Xuereb but was yet to register the transfer. He had given officers Xuereb's number.

When, six days later, a similar theft occurred in Tarxien and ended up with the elderly victim falling to the road and suffering grievous injuries, police called Xuereb in for questioning.

He arrived in a blue Peugeot, its paintwork distressed and aged and with a distinctive orange towel on the back seat. Xuereb had told police that the car was his and that nobody else used it. He was subsequently arrested after refusing to answer further questions.

Later, Vincent Cordina had picked out the car out of a line up of several vehicles that were being held at the impound yard.

Inspector Cachia testified that he had viewed CCTV footage of the latest incident. It showed a man in a white t-shirt and bermudas emerging from suspect vehicle, walking up to the victim, taking her necklace, and toppling her over.

“I identified the number plate, although it wasn't clear. The orange towels and patched paintwork on the bonnet were visible in the footage,” he said.

On 12 October that year, he had questioned Xuereb for the third time while he was being driven to court from the police depot, telling him that he knew Xuereb wasn't working alone.

“Don't carry more than your share of the responsibility, I told him. He gave us a name and the person was investigated but consistently denied involvement. We couldn't arraign him as we did not have enough evidence. He said the other person was is-Sufu. I asked if he meant Simon Camilleri and he said yes.”

The trial continues.

Lawyers Kristina Debattista and Anthony Vella from the office of the Attorney General are leading the prosecution.