Charles Polidano 'Ic-Caqnu' cleared of criminal charges over tiger accident

Court said there was insufficient evidence that Charles Polidano had ordererd the tiger be taken out for a walk on the day of the accident

Developer Charles Polidano, known as
Developer Charles Polidano, known as "Ic-Caqnu"

Businessman Charles Polidano, known as ic-Caqnu, has been cleared of criminal charges relating to an incident in which a three-year-old boy was grievously injured by a tiger at Montekristo Estate’s Animal Park.

Polidano, together with Michael Mercieca and tiger handler Muhammad Saleem had been charged with criminal negligence as a result of the incident. Polidano alone had also been charged with keeping dangerous animals, running a zoo without a licence and relapsing.

The incident in question took place on 28 November 2015, when the young boy suffered facial injuries after being attacked by a tiger which was being taken for a walk by its handler.

Magistrate Joe Mifsud had tough words for his critics, saying that it was good for a judge to weigh the impact a crime has on society, but was “not there to satisfy the cries of those who, after every sentence, write in newspapers or on internet blogs to criticise everything carelessly because they think that they have now become experts in the law and in the manner in which sentences are to be decided.”

The main duty of the court was to lead public opinion, not reflect it, he said. In a judgment which touches upon many legal points of scholarly interest, the court made particular emphasis on the importance of expert opinions, saying that the expert opinions are to be respected, but are not to be considered “dogmas of the faith” which bind the court.

Quoting from the relevant legislation, the court observed that zoos were defined as permanent establishments where animals of wild species are kept for exhibition for seven or more days a year. Magistrate Mifsud also noted that dictionary definitions of the word “zoo” all centred on it being a collection of animals.

But a single tiger does not a zoo make, said the court. Only one animal was photographed and no proof was brought of other animals being in the park, the court noted with annoyance, observing that nobody had been sent to make a list of the animals.

The prosecution had shot itself in the foot, said the magistrate, when it gave only one date and had not attempted to prove the place had been in operation for over seven days as required by law. As far as the charges were concerned, the public had only entered on one occasion, said the magistrate.

With regards to Polidano, it could not be said that sufficient evidence had been presented to show that he had ordered the tiger to be taken out for a walk on the day, thereby finding no vicarious liability on his part. Likewise with Mercieca, the court said that there was insufficient evidence that he was responsible for the incident. The tiger handler, Saleem, however was found to have acted with negligence when he took the tiger out for a walk in an area accessible to the public.

Noting that the accused had reached an out-of-court settlement with the victim, the court imposed a conditional discharge of three years on Saleem, ordering him to pay a third of the costs of the case.

Lawyers Jean Paul Sammut, Mark Vassallo and Edward Gatt appeared for Polidano and Saleem. Lawyer Albert Zerafa appeared for Mercieca.

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