Birkirkara man cleared of petrol station thefts

The 31-year-old man was arrested after being identified as a suspect and charged with the thefts

A man has been cleared of a string of thefts of cash from a number of vehicle service stations due to lack of evidence.

Last February, Police inspectors Elton Taliana and Roderick Agius had charged 31-year-old Wayne Falzon of Birkirkara with five charges of theft from service stations between January 19 and 31, all of which took place in the night time. Cash machines and coin-operated tyre inflator machines were raided in each case.

Falzon was arrested after being identified as a suspect and charged with the thefts. He was also accused of five counts of criminal damage, due to the destructive manner in which the burglaries were carried out, as well as being accused of breaching a probation order and a separate suspended sentence.

Nearly €1,800 in cash had been stolen and over €4,000 worth of damage was caused to the service stations targeted.

One service station owner who had been robbed, told the court that from his CCTV he could say that the thief, who arrived in a Jaguar X, was pale and thin and wearing a hoodie, jacket and black tracksuit bottoms.

An accomplice would sit behind the wheel of the car as the hooded person broke into the machines, the court was told.

A court expert appointed to examine the footage taken at all the service stations struck by the thief was unable to identify the person filmed.

From the outset, Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech had also observed that the CCTV footage did not show the face of the thief, who police said, they had identified “from his walk.”

The accused had denied the charges. He exhibited a list of traffic fines incurred by the car's previous owner.

The Jaguar used to commit the thefts was registered in the name of another man. The accused said he had sold the car on January 7 but the transfer could not be completed because of pending unpaid fines.

Falzon's father had bought the car for him, he explained, but he had sold it less than a month later because of high insurance and road licence costs. When he went to finalise the transfer he discovered nearly €1,000 in unpaid fines from the car's previous owner.

Before January 7, the car had already been insured in the new owner's name. The court observed that this would only make sense if Falzon was not exercising control over the vehicle.

In fact the police had collected the car from the new owner, Falzon had told the court. “The police came home and took clothes, shoes and nothing matched, I gave them my fingerprints and said they are not going to find anything because it wasn't me who would be with him. Why would I go to rob some place with a car that I know is registered in my name with its number plate visible?”

The other car owner – Gilbert Busuttil – had been prosecuted separately, found guilty and sentenced to 54 months in prison, but the prosecution had failed to summon him as a witness in this case.

In the absence of Busuttil's testimony, the court said, there was no evidence that contradicted Falzon's version.

“The father's testimony would have been useful to establish whether the car was in his son's possession at the time the CCTV footage was shot,” rued the magistrate.

Much had been made of the accused's failure to give police the same explanation he had given the court, but as Magistrate Frendo Dimech pointed out, amendments to the law meant that no inferences could be drawn from a suspect's failure to mention facts that could incriminate him.

“Therefore the prosecution can never expect the court to discard the testimony of the accused simply because he failed to make his defence at the first opportunity, even if one would expect this because it is in the interest of every person to diminish any suspicion they are under.”

Falzon was declared not guilty of the charges.

Lawyer David Gatt was defence counsel to Falzon.

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