Acquitted of defiling 11-year-old niece after court battle that lasted eight years

A judge has overturned a prison sentence against a man who allegedly defiled his 11-year-old niece during a card game

The man had filed an appeal after he was jailed for 3 years by the court of Magistrates in 2014
The man had filed an appeal after he was jailed for 3 years by the court of Magistrates in 2014

A man who was sentenced to three years in prison for allegedly defiling his 11 year-old niece during a card game, 10 years ago, has been acquitted after the girl retracted the allegations made by her manipulative mother.

The man had filed an appeal after he was jailed for three years by the court of Magistrates in 2014, having been found guilty of defiling the child, aged just 11 at the time, and inducing her to engage in sexually explicit acts.

The accused had protested his innocence, claiming that he would occasionally play cards with his niece, but only in his mother’s kitchen and upon the girl’s insistence.

The appeal was primarily over the fact that the man’s conviction had been based solely on the child’s testimony, despite ‘serious doubts’ having been expressed about it. The court of magistrates had inexplicably sidelined the accused’s account of events as well as that of other defence witnesses, he had argued.

The court of appeal heard how the girl had, at the time of the two alleged incidents, been in the midst of her parents’ separation at the time. She had told her parents that she wished to move in with her father, instead of with her mother and mother’s new partner.

It had been the mother who filed the criminal complaint against the uncle of her own accord, without even informing the father. She had then allegedly confiscated the girl’s mobile phone at the start of proceedings to prevent communication with the father until she and other maternal relatives had testified.

The court observed that whilst testifying via video conference, the minor had come across as uncertain when she was asked about what item of clothing had been removed during an incident, allegedly during a game of cards in a bedroom inside the paternal grandparents’ home.

The girl had replied that she had forgotten, before bursting into tears and saying that she didn’t want her uncle to go to prison.

After the alleged abuse, the girl had sent her uncle a friend request on Facebook, repeatedly asking to be reunited with her father’s side of the family.

In December 2017, after the appeal had been heard and the case adjourned for judgment, the victim, who by then had turned 18, had filed an application requesting leave to testify again and asking the court to apply any punishment below the prescribed minimum.

Then, in February this year, the girl had filed a note, withdrawing her criminal complaint and renouncing to all the charges.

The Court of Criminal Appeal, presided over by Judge Antonio Mizzi, noted that both the alleged victim and her mother had said they had forgiven the accused when in front of the magistrates’ court.

Highlighting the fact that a criminal complaint could be withdrawn right up to the moment before final judgment is delivered, the court thereby overturned the conviction.

A ban on the publication of all names involved was also ordered by the judge.

Lawyers Franco Debono and Marion Camilleri were defence counsel.

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