No breach of rights for man who streamed committal by police on Facebook

The Commissioner of Mental Health found no breach of rights when police were called in to commit Mario Portelli to Mount Carmel Hospital

Mario Portelli livestream his detention by police officers from his father's home
Mario Portelli livestream his detention by police officers from his father's home

The committal of a man to Mount Carmel Hospital by police officers – streamed live on his Facebook profile – did not breach his rights, the Commissioner for Mental Health has decreed. 

The conclusion by the commissioner into the case of Mario Portelli, a former police constable who had been a discredited witness in the sensational HSBC heist case, was published by health minister Chris Fearne in a reply to a PQ. 

Although Fearne said he would not publish the entire report, due to private medical information, he reproduced a one-paragraph conclusion declaring that Portelli’s committal, at the behest of his parents, did not breach his rights: 

“Having taken all the evidence in consideration, the Board does not consider that Mr Portelli’s rights as a mental health service user were breached during the period indicated for investigation. The Police acted under Article 44(4) of the Mental Health Act. The admission process was effected through a first medical assessment at Mater Dei Hospital and subsequently completed with a second specialist assessment effected within 24 hours of admission at Mount Carmel Hospital.” 

READ MORE | The Mario Portelli livestreams are a political sideshow, but concerns mount over his committal

Portelli’s committal had been roundly criticised by Malta’s mental health charities and associations. Alliance for Mental Health (A4MH) – which includes Malta’s psychiatrists, psychiatry nurses, the Richmond Foundation and the Mental Health Association – had demanded the investigation into the handling of Portelli during his arrest which he livestreamed on Facebook. 

Portelli can be seen in his livestream shouting at his elderly father, whom he accused of having called the police over to the family home.  

The alliance said that in instances were involuntary hospitalisation was unavoidable, strict procedures, as laid down in the Mental Health Act, needed to be followed. “These procedures determine that a medical doctor would have reviewed the person and recommended hospitalisation as the only reasonable course of action to preserve life and safety,” A4MH said. 

But Portelli, formerly PC 99 – a “star” witness in the criminal case against former police inspector turned lawyer David Gatt – had made his presence clear on social media by alleging he had evidence of the Maltese prime minister Joseph Muscat’s ownership of a secret Panamanian company, Egrant. 

Portelli, who in the past had already been hospitalised at Mount Carmel hospital, started making waves on social media by livestreaming Facebook videos of cryptic messages in which he asserts that Muscat owns Egrant – months after a magisterial inquiry decreed that previous claims made by the journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia could not be proven and were not evidence-based – and that the minister Chris Cardona was responsible for the murder of the journalist.  

All his claims hark back to previous newspaper reports, including a more recent, and stranger request: to Romeo Bone, a victim of a car bombing in which he survived but lost both his legs. Strange, because Portelli was convinced that Bone had been commissioned to carry out a hit on him. In fact, Bone had been arrested outside Portelli’s house by police surveillance. Bone, then aged 34, was charged with intent to murder Portelli in 2011, ostensibly over Portelli’s claims of Bone’s involvement in a criminal gang. Bone was freed of the charges a year later.  

Portelli had claimed that Gatt was the mastermind behind the crimes, and that he styled himself on Corleonese mafia boss Totò Rina. But in 2016, the courts lashed out at the decision to charge David Gatt over the HSBC heist solely on the basis of Portelli’s testimony, after Portelli was dismissed fromthe police force over mental health issues in 2014. In 2017 Gatt was acquitted.  

Portelli’s livestreamed arrest earned support from a former ally of sorts: Godfrey Farrugia, the leader of the Democratic Party. Portelli was at one point associated with the small party, having been photographed accompanying PD MP Marlene Farrugia in a meeting with former PN leader Simon Busuttil. Not just any meeting: but the meeting during which Farrugia and Busuttil sealed an understanding on their Forza Nazzjonali coalition in 2017. 

Godfrey Farrugia questioned whether Portelli’s arrest had followed protocol. His partner Marlene also said she had visited Portelli in hospital: “He seems calm and well cared for,” Farrugia wrote, adding that a lawyer was to visit him later in the afternoon. 

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