Mother recalls how men tried to burn her alive in harrowing testimony

A young mother has relived from the witness stand a horrific incident in which two men allegedly tried to burn her alive while she was sitting in her car earlier this month

Bail was denied to both accused
Bail was denied to both accused

A young mother has relived from the witness stand a horrific incident in which two men allegedly tried to burn her alive while she was sitting in her car earlier this month.

Michelle Camilleri testified in the compilation of evidence against film industry worker Alvin Pullicino, 26 and ELC employee Gavin Spagnol. The two cousins are accused, as principal and accomplice respectively, with attempted murder and attempted arson after the 12 July attack.

In testimony that needed several stops to allow the woman to regain her composure, the victim explained, voice quavering, how she had been driving home after a day’s work at the family shop in Xghajra. Camilleri and her husband, together with their two sons, aged 3 and 10, were in the car with her.

Camilleri had been waiting with her elder son in the car outside the couple’s home in Zabbar for her husband to dash inside the house to clean up the other child.

The couple had noticed Gavin Spagnol driving past in his grey Peugeot as they arrived.

As mother and child waited in their car, the two co-accused drew up alongside and approached the car with Pullicino allegedly carrying a red petrol can. Pullicino had proceeded to splash petrol all over the victim’s car, whilst asking her “Are you afraid of me now?”

She had screamed at her son, telling him to get out and run away but at first the petrified child would not leave his mother’s side, she said. Pullicino then opened the car door and doused her with the accelerant, at which point the boy escaped.

“I was telling him ‘Why are you doing this to me? What have I done wrong?’” while Pullicino was trying to get the lighter he as holding against her breast to spark. It was only the fact that the lighter kept slipping from his fuel-soaked fingers that saved her from ignition, she said.

Camilleri finally managed get out of the car and into the relative safety of her front garden. But Pullicino followed, armed with a chain attached to a padlock and cornered her against a wall, pressing the chain against her neck, she said, shaking and through uncontrollable sobs.

Camilleri’s husband, Jean Paul, also took the witness stand, telling magistrate Joseph Mifsud how he had heard the shouting outside the family home and had rushed outside.

He recalled Pullicino repeatedly trying to set his wife on fire, holding her against the wall and screaming “I’ll kill you! I’ll kill you! I won't give up before I kill one of you!”

The husband explained he had tried, and failed, to fight off the armed aggressors. Pullicino had smashed his letter box with the chain before attacking the woman and pressing a piece of metal against her neck and challenging Camilleri to send for his relatives.

The magistrate was told of the longstanding family feud between the two families from Zabbar and that Pullicino was the father of the victim's sister’s daughter.

The victim had provided financial aid to her sister to help her raise her child, the court heard.

The court was also told how in February, the accused had allegedly chased the victim while she had been behind the wheel of her car, accompanied by her younger son and Pullicino’s daughter. A police report was filed just five days before the attempted arson attack, following an argument between the victim, her sister and the two accused at the playground that had turned physical.

Defence lawyer Franco Debono asked for bail as the sitting drew to a close, pointing out that the main civilian witnesses had testified. He asked the court to distinguish between the roles played by the two accused, arguing that Spagnol had played a much smaller role than his co-accused.

The prosecution, however, objected, highlighting the fact that that there had been a number of police reports filed by the two rival families. Just two weeks before the violent incident, the inspector had sent for Pullicino and warned him that further reports of trouble between the families would not be tolerated. “Evidently, Mr Pullicino could not care less even after being warned by the police” the prosecution remarked.

The shocking attack had been carried out as a terrified 10-year-old boy looked on, the inspector pointed out, adding that the child was still traumatised and constantly asking his mother whether the aggressors will “come back for us” when they are released.

The court held that its role was to ensure the proper administration of justice and safeguard the interests of the victim, as well as protecting the rest of society. “Hearing about such incidents makes people live in fear at home and at the workplace,” the magistrate noted.

Bail was denied to both accused. The case continues.

Inspector Christabelle Chetcuti prosecuted. Lawyers Franco Debono, Marion Camilleri and Angie Muscat were defence counsel. Lawyer Veronique Dalli appeared parte civile.

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