Zabbar man, 26, charged with trying to burn partner's sister alive

A 26-year-old and a 21-year-old have been charged with attempted murder and complicity in attempted murder after allegedly trying to set a woman's car on fire as she sat inside it with her son

The two men were denied bail
The two men were denied bail

Two men from Zabbar have been charged with attempted murder and complicity in attempted murder after allegedly trying to set a woman's car on fire as she sat inside it with her 10-year-old son.

The heinous attack took place in Triq il-Berebis, Zabbar, on Wednesday evening, when 26-year-old Alvin Pullicino is said to have ambushed a car driven by his partner's sister and poured fuel on it, before opening the car door and splashing the accelerant on the woman. After both of the vehicle's occupants managed to get out of the car, the accused is reported to have cornered the woman, wrapped a chain around her neck and threatened to set her alight with a lighter, but stopped short.

The lighter was recovered from the scene.

News reports say the attack was disrupted when a resident emerged from a nearby house, causing the attacker to flee.

Inspector Christabelle Chetuti charged Pullicino, who told the court he worked in the film industry, with attempted murder, attempted arson, criminal damage, slightly injuring the woman with a burning or corrosive substance and threatening her.

21-year-old ELC employee Gavin Spagnol was charged with complicity in the crimes and with slightly injuring the woman.

Pullicino was arrested after a search of the area. His car was later found in Triq il-Maghsar, Zabbar, its fuel tank empty. Spagnol was arrested some time later, police suspecting him to have assisted in the ambush.

The attack has been likened to the horrific murder of Sylvia King who died in 1993, in a car that was set alight by the estranged husband of a friend whom she had been trying to help.

Pullicino could be seen laughing in the dock on more than one occasion, before the sitting began.

Inspector Chetcuti explained that over the past year, the police had dealt with several reports about Pullicino's family and that of the victim, who is his ex-partner's sister. There are several pending cases and a lot of bad blood between the families, she said.

Lawyer Franco Debono, defence counsel together with lawyers Marion Camilleri and Angie Muscat entered a plea of not guilty and requested bail.

Sapgnol had no previous convictions and Pullicino had once been convicted of attacking a man 13 years ago, he said, pushing for bail on the basis of the presumption of innocence.

“He will be in prison for first time in his life whilst still presumed innocent,” the defence argued.

Even if guilt were to be found, there could be a suspended sentence or probation, Debono suggested. “A substantial amount of these cases start off as attempted murders, then the AG decides to drop the attempted homicide charge. I don't think anyone was injured.”

The prosecution pointed out that the woman had been injured both by the petrol and the chain that had been wrapped around her neck. Debono insisted that the men were presumed innocent.

Inspector Chetcuti highlighted the fact that the first two charges - attempted murder and arson - were serious enough to warrant his continued detention under arrest. “The fact that we have issued charges means that we have sufficient evidence to prosecute,” said the inspector.

Magistrate Ian Farrugia said that it was evident that “everything relied on the testimony of the alleged victims.” He denied bail, saying there was a real risk of evidence being compromised.

Addressing the accused, the Magistrate said: “This is the first step in a long process. The court has decided that for reasons found in the law, and for the good of all involved, you should remain in custody for now.”

The court advised the men to calm down or things would happen that they would regret, pointing to a recent murder in Marsa which was also a family dispute. “Everybody is wise after the event,” the magistrate said.

Lawyer Veronique Dalli and Andrew Saliba appeared parte civile for the victim.

Lawyer Franco Debono and Marion Camilleri Angie Muscat are defence counsel.