Assault on bus driver was not self defence, prosecution argues

A court has denied a fresh request for bail for a man accused of attempting to grievously injure a bus driver, holding that 'the age of cowboys is over'

The bus driver suffered slight injuries in the assault
The bus driver suffered slight injuries in the assault

Two police inspectors have told a court how CCTV footage of a man accused of assaulting a bus driver showed the man had not been defending himself, as he had claimed.

The case against Omar Joseph Trabelsi, 29, from Kirkop, who stands accused of attempting to grievously injure the driver in the 16 April assault, continued before magistrate Joe Mifsud this morning.

The bus driver suffered slight injuries in the assault, which reportedly took place a few hours after he had pointed out that Trabelsi was trying to use an expired bus ticket – something Trabelsi is reported to have done on several previous occasions.

Prosecuting police inspectors Jeffrey Scicluna and Priscilla Caruana Lee testified.

Inspector Scicluna explained that the report of a fight at the Valletta bus terminus had come in on Good Friday, whilst the police were conducting a patrol during a Good Friday procession. At the scene, officers found the bus driver bleeding profusely from a head wound. There was so much blood, the inspector said, that for an instant he thought the man was an actor or participant in the Good Friday procession.

The description of the assailant - who has a very particular haircut - given by the driver caused the inspector to instantly suspect Trabelsi, he said, as the man was known to the police. Officers had staked out the bus terminus, as the accused was known to hang around the area but he didn't show up. Later inspector Scicluna had phoned the man and gave him an appointment at the police station, which Trabelsi missed. Instructions to arrest the man if he went to the police station were issued and the man was detained when he eventually turned up there.

Later that day, the inspector said, police radio chatter indicated that Trabelsi had escaped from custody and was being chased through the streets of Valletta. He was later arrested near the Auberge de Castille, he said.

During questioning, Trabelsi had insisted that he had hit the driver in self defence and had encouraged the police to see the CCTV footage of the fight. “It emerged that it was not a case of self defence but that Mr. Trabelsi had attacked the driver.”

The prosecution exhibited evidence of a previous criminal conviction, CCTV footage from nearby food vendors, as well as from inside the bus itself, together with medical evidence. The court appointed Dr. Martin Bajada to extract still images from the film.

Inspector Priscilla Caruana Lee also took to the witness stand, confirming her colleague's account of events. The men had argued on 14 April, two days before attack when Trabelsi had been refused board on the bus. CCTV showed the accused boarding the bus and arguing with the victim.

Another camera showed the victim throwing a piece of paper at the accused, she said, and then “a split second later,” the attack took place. 

Lawyer Yanika Camilleri cross examined, asking whether the police had exhibited footage showing what she said was the driver provoking the accused on the 14th. The inspector replied that she had exhibited footage of that date.

A fresh request for bail was denied by the magistrate. “The age of cowboys is over. Everyone who is doing his job, be it a policeman or a bus driver, must be protected.”

The case continues.