Witness testifies in bank holdup case that ended in murder

Witness Richard Grech says he had been sleeping off a shot of heroin while the holdup had taken place and could not provide eyewitness testimony as to what the other two gang members had done while he was out of it

A man, serving a life sentence for his involvement in the murder of Bank of Valletta messenger, Alphonse Ferriggi, took to the witness stand recently in ongoing proceedings against James Vella, Chris Scerri and Joseph Zammit, also jailed for their involvement in the crime.

Richard Grech, 51, was convicted for life following a trial by jury back in 2011. The incident took place 19 years ago. An armed holdup outside a Bank of Valletta branch at San Gwann resulted in the death of the BOV messenger.

Zammit had said in 2014 that he was in prison for nothing since he had only been employed as a getaway driver.

Now Grech has said on the witness stand that he hadn't even contributed to the holdup since shortly before it happened, he claimed to have left the gang's company for a shot of heroin and a drink.

Grech recalled how he had been an addict 19 years ago and got to know Vella and Scerri, the other two co-accused, through a former girlfriend he had from Qormi.

Back in 2000, Mr Grech shared his San Gwann apartment, a penthouse opposite the ill-fated BOV branch, with the same woman during his trips to Malta from Libya where he had been working at the time.

The other two co-accused, knowing the girlfriend well, used to visited the penthouse often and used to observe a messenger, Alphonse Ferriggi, driving up every morning in a white station wagon to deposit "money, or at least bags" at the bank's deposit box.

This was how the plan was hatched. The gang believed that whatever was in those bags had to be money.

Grech, however, said that he was mostly "drunk from morning to night" at this time and just acceeded to everything that the group decided on.

He recalled how one Sunday, before the robbery, he had been with Vella in Sliema along the seafront and remembered how Vella had slipped into an unattended Volkswagen Golf, the car that would be eventually used during the holdup.

The car was stolen and hidden somewhere in the San Gwann Valley until the day when their plans would become a reality, Grech told the court.

On the eve of that fateful morning of September 18, 2000, Vella and Scerri had called for Grech before driving their red Mazda to Floriana where the fourth member of the gang, Zammit, was waiting.

With hours to go to 5am, the foursome had whiled away the time, later returning to Grech’s strategically-placed apartment. As everything was in place and the three brought the getaway Volkswagen Golf metres away from the bank, ready to pounce on the messenger, Grech recalled the others speaking about not knowing what would be in the bags Ferriggi would be carrying.

During this waiting period, Grech claimed to have fallen ill, his drug dependency getting the better of him. This forced him to get out of the car, cross the road to go back to his apartment, climb the stairs and go to sleep.

"I saw nothing. I went upstairs, I went inside," he said, as he recalled how after a shot of heroin, he went back to sleep.

Later that day, as Grech went to Qormi to get a fresh supply of drugs, he met members of the gang, Scerri and Vella and he asked them both whether they had carried out the holdup.

"Yes, but we found nothing, just papers," they allegedly replied.

"That was the end of the story," Grech declared and confirmed under cross-examination that he could not offer eyewitness evidence as to what the two co-accused had actually done since he was in his bedroom at the time.

Inspector Keith Arnaud prosecuted.

Lawyers Franco Debono and Amadeus Cahcia were defence counsel.

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