Football match brawl conviction for father and son overturned on appeal

Hibs supporters’ conviction over football stadium brawl overturned on appeal

A father and son from Paola who were accused and convicted of attacking and threatening police at the Ta’ Qali national stadium, had their sentence overturned, with the father being acquitted and that of his son reduced on appeal. 

Carmelo Callus and his son Jason had been found guilty in 2014 over a 2012 brawl during the Hibs-Floriana match, during which a policeman was slightly injured and handed suspended sentences.

The men’s lawyers, Franco Debono and Marion Camilleri, filed an appeal. 

The police had contended that they had reacted to a disturbance at the stadium and had identified Carmelo Callus as the troublemaker. When the police approached however, he needed to be restrained due to his violent reaction. When his son saw his father being manhandled, he had intervened and ended up arrested. 

Callus insisted that he had not started any trouble, rather he had gone to the police to inform them of a fight and request their assistance but that the officers had misunderstood and arrested him for nothing. 

The Court of Magistrates had observed that there was conflicting evidence, but referred to case law which stated that not every conflict in evidence should result in the exoneration of the accused. 
Judge Giovanni Grixti, after giving a concise overview of this principle in which he examined the various relevant sections of the law, said he “felt the need to clarify that which to date was taken as a rule…in cases of conflicting versions.” It was up to the judge or magistrate to decide who to believe or apply the maxim that doubt counts in favour of the accused. 

Judge Grixti noted that nobody had testified so as to identify the accused on the “disgusting” CCTV footage of the incident and that the court had been unable to recognise them either. 

He observed that eyewitnesses had reported seeing someone throw a drumstick at Carmelo Callus. The police had moved in and taken a man outside. Carmelo Callus had addressed the police and told them that they would be better off helping their colleagues in the commotion taking place a short distance away, but that this was misunderstood by the police who tried to drag him outside too. Jason Callus, seeing his father being manhandled, leapt to his defence and had to be handcuffed and taken to the lockup. 

The judge said he had taken into consideration medical certificates which showed that Carmelo Callus was physically incapable of doing the things he was accused of doing and that a witness had seen him sitting on a bench looking “like he was going to have a heart attack.” 

The court attributed some of the blame for the incident to Jason Callus, who had chosen violence over calmly explaining that his father had no fault in the disturbance. “Situations like this in a football ground are not easy at all for persons entrusted with keeping order, rather it is very dangerous when things escalate in that way.” 

Although some remonstration was conceivable, this could not be allowed to escalate into a brawl, said the judge. 

Having seen all this, the court cleared the father, saying it was of the opinion that Carmelo Callus could not have reasonably been found guilty by the first court, although the same could not be said for his son, Jason. However, after viewing the latter’s positive presentencing report and noting the fact that a long time had passed since the incident, the court decided to reduce the term of the suspended sentence to one year instead of two. 

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