Sheehan inquiry report • The digested read

The fast read: Silvio Scerri changed his version of events and Minister Manuel Mallia kept on insisting that he did not read the government statement

  1. It was Acting Commissioner of Police Ray Zammit [COP] who told government communications chief Kurt Farrugia that “warning shots” had been fired.
  2. A draft for a government statement was circulated at 10pm to the COP, the Prime Minister, Home Affairs Minister Manuel Mallia, and his chief of staff Silvio Scerri and spokesperson Ramona Attard.
  3. Scerri first told the inquiry board that he did not see the statement. In another sitting, this time in confrontation with the COP, he admitted having added “in the air” to the warning shots and the part at the end of the statement where Stephen Smith was said to have refused the breathalyser test. He sent all this to Farrugia, who incorporated it in the statement.
  4. Farrugia asked for a new confirmation from COP and Mallia, the latter saying “issue the statement, issue it” according to Farrugia who told the inquiry that he heard the minister speaking in the background while he was on the phone with COP.
  5. Mallia has denied seeing the statement, and in a confrontation with the COP and Farrugia, COP insisted that he had shown the statement to Mallia.
  6. Ramona Attard called Mallia to inform him, late that evening, that the statement was wrong and that a new one should be issued to “clear the facts”.

Tampering of evidence

  1. COP ordered low-loader to be despatched before any instructions from inquiring magistrate; Inspector Gabriel Micallef – whose sister dates Sheehan – moved Smith’s car without authorisation, onto low-loader; bullet casings were not found – ostensibly an effort to lessen the seriousness of Sheehan’s offence in a “cover-up” by fellow officers.
  2. Sheehan also changed his version of events, after repeating five times that he had shot twice at Smith, later told Superintendent Alexandra Mamo on the scene of the crime in the Tal-Qroqq tunnels at 10pm that he fired “warning shots”.

Conclusions

On Ray Zammit: the board said he should bear most of the responsibility for having added fuel to the fire by supporting the “warning shots” version when Mamo told him that the car had been hit by two bullets.

On Manuel Mallia: he knew of the statement and asked that it does not get amended and he was duty-bound to take immediate steps to rectify the incorrect version later on in the nigh of 19 November; “he has to carry the responsibility for the incorrect official statement his ministry issued.”

On Kurt Farrugia: He demanded that the statement be corrected  but when Ramona Attard called the minister, Mallia said “let’s clear the facts now and issue a statement once we have all the facts.”

On Silvio Scerri: He called MaltaToday’s managing editor Saviour Balzan asking him to change the report that bullets hit the car, saying “these were warning shots, he’s a good guy” – he also changed his version of the events when confronted with the COP, but the board said this alone does not mean he was involved in a “cover-up”.

On Paul Sheehan: The board says Sheehan “cannot be trusted with a firearm” and recommends the police authorities to review his position, and ensure that officers with weapons have the necessary skills, qualities, and that they are aware of the rules of engagement.

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