82-year-old woman still feeling effects of 2012 street theft

Defence lawyer Franco Debono described the prosecution's case as weak because none of the witnesses could describe the perpetrator

Victim Helena Vella said she now has to use a cane because of the injuries caused during the robbery
Victim Helena Vella said she now has to use a cane because of the injuries caused during the robbery

The criminal trial of Joseph Xuereb from Birzebbugia, who is indicted for complicity in carrying out three street robberies on elderly women in 2012, continued this morning with one victim describing “pain everywhere,” when she fell over as a result of her necklace being snatched.

Xuereb is alleged to have been the getaway driver for an unidentified accomplice, who would steal necklaces from the victims, aged 82, 80 and 78, respectively. One victim's wrist was broken as a result.

Theft victim Helena Vella bravely chose to testify in the 53-year-old's trial today. The other two victims were exempted from testifying on health grounds.

Vella, today 82-years-old, told madame justice Edwina Grima how she had been visiting her daughter in Tarxien and was ringing the doorbell when a man had walked up and started speaking to her, unbidden.

“I didn't understand what he said so I said 'sorry' to get him to repeat. At that moment he grabbed my necklace and I fell to the floor. In the meantime, my daughter was at still inside and had no idea about what had happened,” the victim recalled.

Her aggressor then sped off on foot, heading in the direction of the Tal-Barrani road.

The witness described her assailant as around 30-years-old with a pale complexion. He had been wearing a T-shirt which had allowed her to see a tattoo on his arm.

She could not recall what else he was wearing, adding “what I know for sure is that as soon as he snatched my necklace, I ended up on the ground, while cars were driving past. At that moment I started screaming and felt pain all over my body.”

Although she could not recall the monetary value of the necklace, she said that her husband had given it to her as a birthday present because she loved jewelry.

Her husband and daughter had accompanied her to hospital, where an X-ray revealed that she had suffered fractures. Vella ended up with her right hand and leg in a cast and was forced to wear a cervical collar until fully recovered. From that day onward, she has needed to walk with a cane because of joint pain, she claimed.

Vella, who has since moved in with her daughter after leaving hospital, added that police had shown her several photographs in the hope that she would recognise her assailant, but none of the faces shown were familiar.

The woman's neighbour also testified this afternoon, telling the court how he had seen the incident from start to finish, as he had been on his roof at the time. “I was stunned and didn't move from the roof. As soon as the police arrived, I went to speak to them and told them what I had seen,” he said. He did not recognise the accused in court today.

The prosecution declared that it had no further witnesses to summon and defence lawyer Arthur Azzopardi informed the court that the accused would not be testifying.

Lawyer Franco Debono, also appearing for Xuereb, began the defence's submissions, arguing that none of the eyewitnesses had mentioned Joseph Xuereb and that the prosecution had failed to exhibit CCTV footage because it didn't help their case.

Stressing that no description of the perpetrator had been given because nobody had seen him, Debono described the prosecution's case as weak, not least because Xuereb had been charged as a co-accused. 

Debono argued that a prosecution witness had told the court that the licence plate of the car spotted by an eyewitness to the theft had previously been reported stolen. If it was stolen, he said, it logically couldn't be used to trace the car that it was attached to. 

The prosecution opted not to make a reply to the defence's submissions. The court will deliver its sentence on Thursday.

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