Abela considering new measures after suicide at police HQ

After suicide at police HQ, home affairs minister Carmelo Abela says new measures will be implemented if evidence of lax security is found

Home affairs minister Carmelo Abela has pledged to carry out a “necessary” investigation into the conditions of detention at Malta’s prisons after a detainee committed suicide while in police custody at the Police Headquarters on Saturday.

Speaking to MaltaToday, the home affairs minister conceded that the suicide of the German man – the second incident of a death at the police lock-up in less than three months – put the spotlight on the detainment standards currently in place.

“The conditions of detention and the security measures in place at the police lock-up will be analysed, and if need be, I will consider implementing new measures,” Abela said, while explaining that additional measures will be implemented if investigations find evidence of lax security.

In September, the conditions of detention and treatment of persons at Malta’s prisons were found to be compliant by the Council of Europe’s Commission for the Prevention of Torture, but two subsequent deaths in less than three months have raised questions about the safety of those confined at the police lock-up.

Confirming the details surrounding the suicide of the German man, who hanged himself while in police custody on Saturday, Police Commissioner Michael Cassar told a press conference that the police had increased cell inspections at the lock-up, and that he is considering the installations of CCTV inside cells “if these save lives”.

The 36-year-old German, who had been living in Malta for just three months, was found dead at around 10:40pm during a routine check by one of the four police officers present at the lock-up at the time of the death, while in October a 39-year-old man from Zejtun hanged himself at the Floriana depot using a bed sheet.

The magisterial inquiry in that case is still ongoing.

Asked whether any administrative or political responsibility should be shouldered for either case, home affairs minister Carmelo Abela insisted that one could only determine responsibility once the respective inquiries are completed.

Similarly, the minister was also cautious when asked whether the government would consider installing CCTV inside the cells at the behest of the police commissioner, explaining that such a measure would require serious consideration as it could impinge on people’s dignity and privacy.

Moreover, Abela did not rule out launching a parallel independent investigation beyond the magisterial inquiry, explaining that for instance, the police board – an independent entity chaired by Judge Emeritus Franco Depasquale – is empowered to enquire into and report on any matter concerning the conduct of the police force and may summon those involved to give their sworn testimony.

Suicide victim was arrested just hours before

Saturday’s suicide victim - a 36-year-old man from Stuttgart, Germany, who had been living in Malta for just three months - was arrested by Msida police after he was spotted scouring rooftops. The man was subsequently taken to the Sliema police station before being taken to Mater Dei Hospital for methadone at his request after having confessed to suffering from a drug problem and to being unemployed and homeless.

He was later transferred to the Floriana police lock-up pending his arraignment on charges of drug possession and attempted theft, and at around 10:40pm on Saturday, one of four police officers present at the lock-up at the time, found the man’s lifeless body.

Efforts to give the man first aid proved futile, and he was certified dead moments later.

The circumstances preceding the man’s suicide are not yet known but investigations so far have revealed that a routine check carried out just 15 minutes before the grim discovery was made found the victim to be in good health. 

The corridors of the lock-up are monitored by CCTV footage but the actual cells are not monitored due to privacy issues.

Following the suicide, a magisterial inquiry was launched by Magistrate Natasha Galea Sciberras. All evidence, including the CCTV footage, will be provided to the investigating magistrate, while any police officers involved or present at the time of the incident, can be summoned and examined.