Prime Minister publishes Jean Paul Sofia magisterial inquiry

Prime Minister publishes the procès-verbal of the magisterial inquiry into the fatal incident that killed Jean Paul Sofia

Jean Paul Sofia died in a construction site collapse on 3 December
Jean Paul Sofia died in a construction site collapse on 3 December

Updated at 5:15pm with PN statement 

The Prime Minister has published the magisterial inquiry into the death of Jean Paul Sofia in Kordin on 3 December.

The magistrate recommended that criminal action be taken against architect Adriana Zammit, Matthew Schembri, Kurt Buhagiar, Milomir Jovicevic, and Dijana Jovicevic. They have since been charged in court.

Jean Paul Sofia's mobile phone – last contacts

Jean Paul Sofia received three calls the morning of the accident: two from Matthew Schembri, and one from his mother.

From the photos on his mobile, it appears that Jean Paul Sofia was working from a height. The photos, in grainy black and white, show four other construction workers on the roof of the construction site mere minutes before the construction collapse.

The nature of the collapse

The inquiry conclusions suggest that the wall of the construction site fell moments before the roof started to collapse. “This is in conformity with the hypothesis that the collapse was not an internal one, from the roof, because otherwise the fresh concrete would have collapsed towards the middle.”

Photos presented in the inquiry suggest that the building collapsed outwards, rather than inwards.

Another photo shows that the planned double walls were not tied together, as required in good workmanship. “This shortcoming has structural significance, because, in terms of lateral stiffness, a double wall tied together is four times stronger than two walls built next to each other.”

More photos show that the metal bars over which concerete is laid were neither tied to the respective adjacent structures, thus reducing the building’s ‘resilience’ in the case of an accident.

The inquiry also points to a spreader beam mentioned in the construction plans drawn up by the architect. However, what was missing were instructions for the spreader beam to be tied to the metal bars between the concrete planks.

Since the outside structure was not ‘tied’ together properly, pressure from the overlying concrete planks would have pushed the walls outwards.

The fact that there was no interlocking system tying the walls to other parts of the structure meant that the moment one wall started to collapse, the whole site was going to go down with it.

No one licensed on site

The inquiry points out that there was no one on site who fully understood what they were doing, and the contractors and owners of the site knew this.

“It is important that the authorities impose not only a licensing system of contractors as soon as possible, for both Maltese and foreign workers, but also serious training on the current needs of the construction industry.”

Moreover, no register was kept of who was going onto the construction site, The inquiry adds that Jean Paul Sofia’s role on site was also vague, as earlier in the day he went on site to collect material and empty it into a skip. He later returned to the construction site and this time went up to the roof, where he took photos of the work underway.

Downloadable Files

“It is fundamental for the health and safety of people, including workers, that on any construction site there is full control over who enters the site, and that there is someone who knows exactly who is working on what, as is the norm outside of Malta.”

Some of the workers who were on site at the time of the collapse had little to no training in construction, and were registered as carpenters.

It seems that Matthew Schembri was the person giving instructions on the work that had to be done on site. “The technical leadership on site, and supervision, was done through WhatsApp and photos taken by someone like Jean Paul Sofia!”

Indeed, architect Adriana Zammit was giving orders on what to do on site based on photos sent on a WhatsApp chat with Matthew Schembri, Kurt Buhagiar, and at a later stage Schembri’s cousin Andre. Zammit and Schembri would only meet on site every two weeks.

According to the inquiry report, it was Kurt Buhagiar who was responsible for the applications and permits for the site, “because of his contacts”.

OHSA were not aware of works

OHSA CEO Mark Gauci testified to the inquiry that the owners of the site did not inform the authority of the works, as is required at law.

Because of this, the work was not on the OHSA’s radar. No officials from the authority went on site to carry out inspections, nor to ensure that the site is safe for workers.

In fact, photos exhibited in the inquiry from various mobiles and files never showed workers on site wearing protective gear.

Key facts from the conclusion

  • All five accused were to be charged with causing the death of Sofia and injuries to five other men through negligence.
  • Matthew Schembri was to be charged with falsifying signatures between April and May 2020 on the Commencement Notice of the construction works. He was also to be charged with making a false statement to a public authority in the Commencement Notice.
  • Matthew Schembri, Kurt Buhagiar, Milomir Jovicevic and Dijana Jovicevic were to be charged with failing to adhere to several health and safety regulations, including failing to appoint a project supervisor while works were underway
  • Matthew Schembri and Kurt Buhagiar were to be charged with failing to notify the OHSA of the works at least four calendar weeks before works started.

‘Magisterial Inquiry report contradicts Robert Abela’ - PN

The magisterial inquiry report published by the Government contradicts Robert Abela, who vehemently opposed a public inquiry for months, even pressuring his Members of Parliament to vote against its establishment in Parliament, the nationalist Party dais on Wednesday.

“The magisterial inquiry's conclusion emphasizes the necessity for a public inquiry to reveal the complete truth and ensure justice in the matter of the young man's tragic demise,” it said reacting to the 89-page report.

Citing Magistrate Marseann Farrugia (page 78), the PN said the report clarifies that the magisterial inquiry's scope did not extend to examining administrative and/or legislative deficiencies directly, as it was not within its legal purview.

Magistrate Marseann Farrugia's report points to evidence suggesting the presence of institutional, systemic, and legislative deficiencies. These findings could potentially serve as grounds for further investigations by competent authorities, in accordance with the law.

“Therefore the report published by the Government contradicts Robert Abela who spent months arguing against a public inquiry from taking place while forcing his Members of Parliament to vote against it in Parliament.”

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