Updated | Sufficient grounds to indict six bouncers over brutal Paceville beating

Video footage of the five bouncers of a Paceville nightclub beating two foreigners in May caused uproar when it made the rounds on social media

Jurghen Sghendo leaving the court
Jurghen Sghendo leaving the court
Photos: James Bianchi/MediaToday
Photos: James Bianchi/MediaToday

A group of six men have appeared in court in connection with the savage beating of two foreign men, the footage of which was captured on CCTV and went viral on social media.

Inspector Trevor Micallef accused Simon Cassar of Swatar, William Briguglio of Valletta, Carmelo Zammit of Valletta, Carmel Sghendo and Jurgen Sghendo of Imsida and Ezekiel George Mintoff of St Venera with causing grievous injuries to a Syrian and a Jordanian, with instigating a fight and with disturbing the peace with shouting and fighting. The ages of the accused range from 23 to 53.

The six bouncers, one in a wheelchair with his leg in an Elizarov frame, were summoned before magistrate Joe Mifsud this morning, charged over the incident which occurred two months ago outside Clique in Paceville. Mahmoud Ahmad Al Smadi and Ali Alhasan suffered grievous injuries as a result of the attack – the court being told that one of the men may lose his sight.

Despite the arraignment being made by writ of summons, Ali Alhasan was escorted to court from Corradino prisons, where he has been held since Sunday afternoon when he was charged with the rape of a 12-year-old girl.

All but one of the accused did not have the licence required to work as security guards, the court heard today. Inspector Micallef told the court that CCTV footage did not capture the attack in its entirety and that the victims had recalled different numbers of assailants, varying from 10 to 20.

CCTV footage showed a commotion involving some bouncers, but the fight itself was out of shot, inspector Micallef said. One victim is seen speaking to Carmelo Zammit and Ezekiel Mintoff approaches him from behind and slaps him at the back of the head. When he turns, Mintoff is seen to punch the man, knocking him unconscious, the inspector said.

Police had identified some of the accused from file photographs and the footage. Answering a question from defence lawyer Kathleen Grima, the inspector said that no identification parade was held. The two victims were shown photographs of the suspects and had not identified the assailants, but the police had arrived at the identities themselves, he explained.

Lawyer Charlon Gouder asked if more than two foreign men had been involved. A third person had been seen trying to calm the situation down, he said but after the man was floored, this third person was seen to take off his shirt and invite the bouncers to fight.

But when police arrived “we saw two men injured and covered in blood on the ground,” inspector Micallef said.

Al Smadi, who lives in Rabat testified. “I had been with my friend Ali al Hasan...we were going home...I saw one of the bouncers who I knew,” he said, pointing to Jurgen Sghendo. “He hit me on the head from behind and the others joined in.” What happened after that was not clear because Al Smadi couldn't see, he said. “As soon as I got the blow at the nape of my neck I got dizzy and then they surrounded me. They came from everywhere.” He could not recognise the man who hit him at the back of the head.

“The first punch lost my balance and fell over. After, I woke up, and many more people came and attacked me. I was totally dizzy. An ambulance arrived and checked me over.”

Al Smadi said he had been left partially deaf from his left ear and had suffered a fracture above his orbital ridge. His nose was also broken, he said.

Ali al Hasan from Aleppo, Syria, living in Marsaskala, testified how on 21 May, he had gone to Paceville with a friend, near Clique. He identified Simon Cassar, Ezekiel Mintoff, Jurgen Sghendo.

“The first one, Simon Cassar, grabbed a bottle and hit me with it. Jurgen Sghendo pushed me into the glass door. There was absolutely no fighting before this incident.”

Al Hasan's testimony was at times incomprehensible even when translated by an interpreter.

Grima asked him if he had seen the footage on the internet or TV before going to the police. He said he hadn't. He had only described physiques and colourings of his assailants to the police. It was unclear whether he been shown any pictures by the police, the witness appearing to contradict himself.

Lawyer Andy Ellul pointed out that the witness, Al Hasan, had been held in prison overnight on the unconnected rape charge, but magistrate Mifsud pointed out that the man was as innocent as Ellul's client was at this stage.

The court noted that the men had not been arraigned under arrest, but said that it would not be tolerating people pretending to be sick and missing sittings. “I will be issuing them summons for 12 September, but if they start to not turn up, I will carry on hearing the case without them.”

Warning them that he could also bar the security guards from going to Paceville if they defied him, the magistrate issued a provisional protection order in favour of the two victims until the case is concluded. “If you breach this protection order without a valid reason you can be jailed for six months and fined up to €2,039.” The Court also advised the victims to avoid going to Paceville, but said it could not bind them from doing so.

Ellul said the defence was reserving the right to take legal steps against “those who clearly and in breach of the data protection act, circulated the footage in question on social media”

The court replied that it “wasn't going to stand in their way” saying it wanted to make it very clear that it had taken a consistent line on the abuse of social media, but the court was not going to censor the media “who are the watchdog in our country. At times, the court feels, it is the judiciary and the media who are protecting the interests of society and those who live in this country. The media should not be a lapdog but a guard dog and the court is prepared to protect the media in the carrying out of its duties as long as these are carried out in line with the country's laws and the code of ethics.”

Ellul replied that he was not against journalism, but argued that the sharing of CCTV footage from a public place is a breach of the Data Protection Act. “There is a difference between broadcasting unedited footage and protecting the innocent,” Grima added.

The court decreed that there was sufficient prima facie evidence for the Attorney General to issue a bill of indictment against the men. The case continues in September.

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