Daphne Caruana Galizia murder: Eyewitness tells court of enormous explosion

Magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit continued to hear witnesses in the compilation of evidence against three men accused of murdering journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia

Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered in a car bomb on 16 October and three men have so far been accused with the crime
Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered in a car bomb on 16 October and three men have so far been accused with the crime

An eyewitness to the explosion which killed Daphne Caruana Galizia gave a court his account of events this morning.

Francis Sant, a resident of Bidnija said he was on the way to Manikata when he spotted a car coming slowly in the opposite direction. “First there was a bang...then there was a second one. It was enormous. The fireball reached the side of the road. After the first explosion it was like someone was on the brakes but after the second one it rolled past me.” The car rolled into a field where another explosion, possibly the petrol tank occurred, he said.

“I got out of the car to try and help, but then when I started to see human body parts in the road I realised I could do nothing. I tried to call Mosta police station for help but couldn’t get through.”

A string of police witnesses testified to the horrific aftermath left by the blast.

A firefighter from the Civil Protection Department testified to how we was dispatched to deal with a suspected car bomb in Bidnija on 16 October 2017. “I noticed that there were traces that suggested the car came off the road and fell into the field.” There were emergency services already at the scene.

Another CPD officer, an assistant rescue officer told the court how he had assisted putting out the blazing car. “The car was in a field, there were some body parts on the ground. There was a doctor and some AFM personnel at the scene. There was a body part some distance away from the car,” he said.

Heavily armed police have escorted the accused into court
Heavily armed police have escorted the accused into court

The local Station Officer said “I looked inside the car..between the seat and the passenger door there was what appeared to be human remains. The person was evidently not alive so I stood back and waited for the fire engine to arrive.”

Inspector James Grech CID was next to testify. He had been informed of the explosion and ten minutes later that the car was leased to Caruana Galizia. The scene had already been cordoned off when he arrived, he said. CPD and Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) personnel were there.

“There was a small car, unrecognizable, extensive damage,” he said. His job was to secure the crime scene until the arrival of the homicide squad inspectors and inquiring magistrate, explained Grech.

An EOD officer testified that the scene was “chaos” "There was a bit of panic, everyone with their mobiles." He searched the area for other devices but found nothing. He then cordoned off the area.

A Criminal Investigations Department officer told the court about his role in the raid on the infamous potato shed in Marsa which resulted in the arrest of the three men. He identified the accused in the courtroom as the men arrested.

Police had searched Degiorgio’s residence in St. Paul’s Bay together with officers from EOD, dog section and Alfred Degiorgio himself. EOD and dogs had ensured there were no explosive devices, after which the scene of crime officers went in. A Europol expert assisted the forensic officers. Electronic devices, top up vouchers and black paint were collected from the scene.

Martin Fenech asked if he had seen a warrant with regards to the potato shed raid. He had been driving and hadn’t seen the warrant, he said.

Did he have a search warrant for the St Paul’s bay property, asked the lawyer.

He had been shown it but it was not in his hands at the time of the raid, he said.

Was it shown to Degiorgio, “a citizen with rights like everyone else?” Fenech asked.

The officer could not confirm - it had not been shown in his presence and he was unable to say whether it had been shown to the accused in the potato shed as he had not been there.

The warrant was handed out by inspector Arnaud at around 4am before a briefing on the raid, it emerged.

A number of other police witnesses testified about the raid and Fenech asked all of them about the search warrant. The defence has an interest in attacking the warrant - if successful, this could lead to the disqualification of all the evidence collected in the Marsa raid.

Architect Richard Aquilina exhibited his report on the scene and the list of items found in the potato shed. He confirmed that the scene had been secured from all entrances.

A director of Percius car hire explained the leasing process. He was unable to say whether it was possible to copy a key, but confirmed that the one in evidence had been the spare key to the vehicle.

The case continues on March 26. 

Police Inspectors Keith Arnaud and Kurt Zahra are prosecuting.

Lawyers Jason Azzopardi u Therese Commodini Cachia are parte civile for the Caruana Galizia family.

George Degiorgio, Ic-Ciniz, is represented by legal aid lawyer Josette Sultana; Alfred Degiorgio, il-Fulu, is represented by privately engaged lawyers, Martha Mifsud and William Cuschieri; Vince Muscat, il-Kohhu, is represented by legal aid lawyer Martin Fenech.

Lawyers Elaine Mercieca Rizzo and Nadia Attard from the office of the Attorney General were also present.



Who are the accused

  • George Degiorgio 55, unemployed, lives in St Paul's Bay, known as Ic-Ciniz
  • Alfred Degiorgio, 53, unemployed lives in St Paul's Bay, known as il-Fulu
  • Vincent Muscat, 55, unemployed lives in Msida, known as il-Kohhu

What we know so far

Caruana Galizia’s car

  • The Peugeot car Daphne Caruana Galizia was driving at the time had been leased four months before
  • Her son Matthew Caruana Galizia had occasionally used the car in the period
  • Matthew was the last person to have parked the car outside the gate of the family’s Bidnija home
  • Investigators dismantled a similar model of the car to determine whether any debris collected from the crime scene was extraneous
  • This led the police to discover the presence of an electronic board, which was part of the SIM card dock on the explosive device

The ‘small white car’

  • A person who spoke to the police had noticed a “small white car” frequenting a particular area at Tat-Targa Battery, part of the Victoria Lines
  • On the day of the murder the white car was there but unlike previous occasions the driver was not inside
  • Police noticed that next to where the car used to be parked part of a wall had collapsed and led to a place with a birds-eye view of Bidnija
  • Forensic experts combed the area for any clues, including cigarette butts
  • After the murder, the car was never seen again
  • Given Caruana Galizia did not have a fixed pattern of movement, police believe someone was shadowing her movements

The detonator

  • Location data from the Bidnija area led the police to home in on a number that received an SMS at 2.58pm and stopped broadcasting thereafter
  • The number was linked to an electronic device normally found in appliances that can be activated remotely
  • This device acted as the detonator of the car bomb
  • The device was switched on in the Bidnija area at around 2am on 16 October
  • It remained in a static location for the day until it received an SMS and disappeared

The killer SMS

  • The SMS that triggered the bomb was sent from a Nokia 105 mobile phone connected to the cell tower near the YMCA in Valletta
  • This phone was switched on, on the day of the explosion and started broadcasting from a cell ID near the Curia
  • The signal moved to Paceville, Senglea, Rinella, Zabbar and Xghajra as it bounced from cell towers north and south of the country every hour
  • The cell towers all faced seawards that led police to suspect the mobile phone was on a boat circling the island
  • The number linked to the detonator and the number that sent the SMS had been set up in November 2016 and had only corresponded with each other on three occasions

The pleasure boats

  • The Degiorgio brothers both own pleasure boats
  • CCTV footage showed that one of them – the Maya – was spotted leaving the Grand Harbour at around 8am before turning north
  • At the time the killer SMS was sent, the Maya was spotted under the Great Siege Bell area, where it stopped for a few minutes before heading towards Marsa

The top up call

  • The Secret Service had intercepted a call from George Degiorgio’s phone, asking the recipient to top him up with €5
  • The person was unable to and Degiorgio called another person, asking the same question “Don’t take long, if you can,” Degiorgio told the person
  • The person complied and minutes later topped up the number identified by George Degiorgio
  • Police obtained call profiles relating to George Degiorgio, Alfred Degiorgio and Vince Muscat
  • All mobile numbers involved were activated within 20 minutes of each other – two were activated in Senglea and the third in Hamrun

Other points

  • Alfred Degiorgio's DNA matched that found on a cigarette butt, which was picked up from the Victoria Lines
  • Police say Alfred Degiorgio was the spotter monitoring the Caruana Galizia household and is believed to have remained all night at the vantage point
  • Alfred called his brother George Degiorgio to inform him Caruana Galizia had left the house
  • The call lasted 107 seconds, which is the time it takes to drive from the house to where the bomb exploded
  • After detonating the bomb by SMS, George Degiorgio messaged his wife with the words: "Buy me wine, my love."
  • George Degiorgio had been telling people the day before the murder that he was going fishing
  • After the incident George was heard boasting "I've caught two big fish today".
  • Though unemployed, the Degiorgio brothers each owned a boat and luxury cars