Trial of man accused of murder over tamarisk trimming in Marsalforn begins

A 67-year old pensioner is indicted for murder of a father, 45, and the attempted murder of his son, 24, after a heated argument on the trimming of a tamarisk tree that ended in bloodshed

A jury has heard police witnesses describe how an argument over the trimming of a protected tree in Qbajjar, in Gozo in 2013, ended up with one man dead and another accused of his murder.

Judge Antonio Mizzi is presiding over the trial by jury of pensioner Gerald Galea, 67, from Zebbug, Gozo, which began earlier today.

Galea is indicted for the murder of 45 year-old John Spiteri and the attempted murder of his 24 year-old son, Matthew in what has been described as a tragic ending to an argument.

Galea is also accused of causing €2,660 worth of damage to the car, which belonged to a third party, dangerous driving, and causing damage amounting to €600 to the victim’s car.

The fatal incident occurred on the Qbajjar promenade in Marsalforn, Gozo on June 19 2013, at around 3:15pm.

Spiteri and his son had been trimming some trees to allow them to set up a kiosk on the site, when the accused turned up in his car and complained about this. An argument ensued, after which the accused is alleged to have driven around the parking area a number of times before driving at John Spiteri.

Spiteri was dragged underneath the vehicle and admitted to hospital suffering from critical injuries, which claimed his life shortly afterwards. Matthew Spiteri was not injured, having avoided being mowed down by the onrushing vehicle.

Lawyers Giannella Busuttil and Kevin Valletta, who are leading the prosecution on behalf of the Attorney General, said the kiosk had been legal and was being set up with the local council’s permission.

Busuttil said Galea, who lived opposite the site, emerged from his home and confronted the men, saying that he was not going to allow them to set up shop on the site, at which point John Spiteri invited him to file a police report. Seeing that Galea was going to stand his ground, Spiteri told his son to take note pf the licence plate of the man’s vehicle.

The son went to pick up his mobile phone and upon his return, saw his father bleeding from a cut lip and punching the accused. Galea then ran his father over, before turning the vehicle around to hit him too.

According to the prosecution, the son moved out of the car’s path in time, grabbed on to the driver side door pillar and began to punch the accused, who then drove away and into a low wall, uprooting a tree in the process. Upon emerging from the vehicle, the accused received several blows to the face at the hands of Matthew Spiteri.


Galea arrived at the scene in a car belonging to his brother-in-law.

When he drove at Spiteri, the victim had been resting against his own truck, in the space between it and a low wall. Spiteri was knocked down and dragged under the car for several metres.

News reports from the time of Galea’s arraignment were accompanied by pictures of the accused being escorted into court, face bruised and eyes swollen.

Galea was kept in hospital for observation after the incident and released the next day into the custody of waiting police officers. He told police that he had gone outside to drive his mother to the Ta’ Pinu church, and had approached the men to see what was happening.

Galea told police investigators he stopped six feet away from them, spoke to them calmly, before John Spiteri attacked him as he was getting into his car. He reversed away and then put the automatic transmission car into ‘drive’, saying he didn’t know what had happened after that because his feet “jammed up.”

Matthew Spiteri told police that he and his father had been cutting down the tamarisk trees to clean up the place and to prevent rat infestation so as to set up their kiosk, something they did every year.

Lawyer Arthur Azzopardi, defence counsel together with lawyer Jason Azzopardi, cross-examined, asking the police witness about the accused’s injuries at the time of his arrest. These included fractures and were grievous. “His face...his right eye was blue and he had a big bruise on his face and under his eyes, if I remember correctly,” said the witness.

Azzopardi asked whether the police had ascertained whether “a person with three facial fractures and whose eyes were swollen was in a mental state capable of interrogation”, and whether Galea had been taken to see an ENT specialist before his interrogation.

When Judge Mizzi pointed out that a medical note showed he had been taken to hospital after midnight, the lawyer said the records said that doctors ordered that Galea be taken to ENT, ophthalmic and other surgeons. Had this been done, he asked?  “What I remember is that the accused wasn’t unwell, otherwise we would have taken him to hospital or a polyclinic,” the witness replied.

Matthew Spiteri had told police that he punched Galea a number of times but had not been charged because Galea “is undergoing criminal proceedings and we are under the belief that it might have been self defence,” the police inspector replied, pointing out that charges could still be pressed if it emerged that this wasn’t the case.

Another police officer, the first to arrive at the scene, saw Galea by the skips on the site, clearly needing medical assistance as he had a swollen black eye.

“I noticed that the victim was covered in dust and was bleeding from the head. There was blood on the ground too... I thought it was a traffic accident at first but then a person in an orange top came running at me shouting ‘don’t let that man go, he ran over my dad, don’t let him leave’. At that point I realised that it wasn’t a regular traffic accident, but an argument.”

Matthew Spiteri told the officer Galea had reversed, performed two laps of the parking area and then drove on to the Spiteris, hitting the victim and dragging him around the parking area.

The officer said Galea was in shock, and Spiteri, was crying, struggling to breathe. “We had to restrain him because he wanted to get into his truck to go see his father in hospital.”

One Joseph Axiaq, who had been on holiday from Australia in a house overlooking the promenade, had rushed to see what was happening outside, witnessing Spiteri being run over.

Defence counsel Jason Azzopardi made reference to a transcript of an emergency call, reporting that a person had “emerged from a car and had fallen to the ground and appeared to be in critical condition.” The officer confirmed that Galea was seriously injured. “He looked beaten up.”

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