Paqpaqli crash barriers not intended to protect spectators, court told

Crash barriers erected at PaqPaqli ghall-Istrina event, in which 23 were injured, were not meant to protect the public but to avoid damage to aircraft

The Porsche 918 Spyder that crashed in October 2015 at Hal Farrug  (Photo: Malta Police Force)
The Porsche 918 Spyder that crashed in October 2015 at Hal Farrug (Photo: Malta Police Force)

The crash barriers erected at the 2016 PaqPaqli ghall-Istrina event, in which 23 were injured by an out-of-control sports car, were not meant to protect the public but to avoid damage to aircraft and seal off the other operational runway at Malta International Airport.

This emerged as Head of Security and former head of Civil Protection Department Patrick Murgo testified before magistrate Aaron Bugeja about the security plan for the ill-fated event in which millionaire businessman Paul Bailey lost control of his Porsche 918 Spyder and crashed into the crowd.

Water-filled barriers delineated the public area from the restricted area, he said, adding that there had been security patrols, ostensibly intended to keep the public behind the barriers.

Before the event, there were a number of meetings at MIA, but these were about security not safety, he said.

Cross-examined by lawyer Stefano Filletti, Murgo said that the paddock area had temporarily ceased to be a restricted area and became a public place, there were legal notices regulating this, he added.

“The legal notice says that a zone is set out and declared as an area where the public may enter without security restrictions.”

The upshot of this was that the area stopped being his responsibility during the events, other than to protect MIA property, he said.

“What that the management of the public area does not remain the airport’s responsibility...”

Lawyer Giannella Demarco asked whether there was a distinction between private land made open to the public and restricted access area in which the public was temporarily allowed.

“When you have land given to organisers for such an event, the event managers must not interfere with the operations of the airport, but the airport management must not interfere with the event.”

She asked if the police and Civil Protection Department had met with him to discuss risk, or compile risk assessments vis a vis the activity. He replied that he had never met to discuss these matters. His meetings had been limited to safety and security of airport and passengers, replied Murgo.

“The airport demands an extension to insurance policies. It demands insurance cover for all events to ensure the protection of civil aviation and the airport.”

The insurance for the event was the duty of the event organiser - Paqpaqli Ghall-Istrina, under the auspices of the President of the Republic, he said. “Had they given you a copy of this policy?” Demarco asked.

Murgo said he couldn’t recall. Pressed by the court, he said: “I don’t remember if it was taken out.”

Lawyer Roberto Montalto showed the witness a copy of a document, asking if it was a safety plan. It wasn’t and he hadn’t been shown it before October 2015, he said.

Lawyer Stefano Filletti asked the witness what had been discussed by the organisers about high-speed trials. There was an agreement that these trials should take place, but the witness was unable to recall whether any had been carried out.

“Supercars have powerful engines. Because of the speed they reach we conceded the runway to keep the public as far away as possible.”

There were contingency plans in place just in case something happened to the operational runway.

“We would have stopped the event and removed the bollards to make secondary runway usable.” Some of the bollards were concrete, some filled with water, he said.

“The water filled ones near the accident site were chosen to facilitate their quick removal,” he said, clarifying that these had been chosen by the organising committee.

Demarco asked whose responsibility it was to ensure the bollards were filled with water. MIA officers were there to ensure they were in the right place, he said.

“We had asked the organising group to provide and fill the barriers.

The public should have been on the apron, the bollards...fixed barriers couldn't have been used because it would be made operational after event.

“The barriers were there to ensure the security of the airport. Concrete barriers were to protect a group of impounded aircraft and the water bollards for the area of aviation operations.”

The public should have been almost 100m away from high speed run area, he said.

British millionaire Paul Bailey and 12 others were arraigned in court, in June 2016, to face charges in connection with the crash at the charity event the previous October.

23 people were injured when Bailey, who was behind the wheel of a Porsche 918 Spyder supercar, lost control of the vehicle and careened into the spectators.

The other accused are TV personality Tonio Darmanin, Tonio Cini, Agostino Degiorgio, Jonathan Tonna, Kevin Perry, Melvin Haber, Ian Keith Cilia Pisani, Jonathan Bruno, Julian Mannara, Christopher Sultana, David Bugeja and Brian Gatt.

The 13 stand accused of involuntarily causing grievous bodily harm, as well damage to various motor vehicles, through imprudence, carelessness and non-observance of regulations.

There were no mechanical failures with the car.

The Magisterial inquiry report observed that Bailey was not a "professional driver’ and blamed the crash on his use of excessive speed and incorrect handling techniques.

"While the driver is a collector of cars, he doesn't appear to have the necessary skills to drive such cars with such velocity," the inquiry had said.

The 11-member organising committee, including Darmanin, the man mostly identified with the event, had also mentioned by the inquiry as bearing responsibility for the “secondary causes” of the incident.

Police Inspectors Josric Mifsud, Silvio Magro and Hubert Cini are prosecuting.

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