Terminally ill prisoner’s request for early parole ‘out of minister’s hands’

PN deputy leader Beppe Fenech Adami warns 'crisis in police force' leading to deterioration in prison conditions, prevailing sense of lawlessness in Paceville 

Home affairs minister Carmelo Abela and PN deputy leader Beppe Fenech Adami debate on Reporter Photos:Ray Attard
Home affairs minister Carmelo Abela and PN deputy leader Beppe Fenech Adami debate on Reporter Photos:Ray Attard

Home affairs minister Carmelo Abela admitted that he is powerless to secure an early parole for Godfrey Ellul, a terminally ill prison inmate who has been given a few months to live. 

“The law forbids me as minister from personally interfering to secure the early release of prisoners on parole,” Abela said on Monday night’s edition of Reporter. “The government appoints the parole board, but then leaves it to operate fully independently. In this case, the board did its research and came to the conclusion that he wasn’t eligible for early parole.”

He argued that it was the current government that had implemented the parole law, “after it had been shelved by the previous administration”.

Ellul, 67, has six years left of his original 20-year sentence for drug dealing but his relatives have appealed for his early release – on the grounds that he is suffering from terminal lung cancer and has only been given a few months left to live.

Inmates suffering from terminal illnesses can be considered for early parole, but the parole board turned down his request two weeks ago. His family has now appealed to the President to grant him a presidential pardon on compassionate grounds.

‘Prison has gone from the frying pan into the fire’ – Fenech Adami

Speaking on Reporter, PN deputy leader Beppe Fenech Adami warned that conditions for inmates at the Corradino prison has deteriorated heavily since Labour’s accession to power.

He read out a letter sent to him by a prisoner who claimed that “prisoners live in a state of perpetual limb, with prison conditions now back to what they were a century ago”.

“Prison conditions are far worse than they were under the previous administration. This come as no surprise given the mismanagement of the police force, with police commissioners continuously being replaced, and Ray Zammit – a person involved in so many cases of corruption – appointed as prison director.”

He later warned that the “crisis in the police force” has also led to an ever-increasing “sense of lawlessness” in Paceville, culminating in last November’s accident at the PlusOne nightclub.

“There were 1,800 cases of theft in St Julians’ last year, along with people parking haphazardly and under-age youths entering nightclubs. This sense of criminality was raising its head and Paceville was an accident waiting to happen.

When questioned by host Saviour Balzan whether the prison should be turned into a political football, Fenech Adami retorted that Labour had “heavily politicized it prior to the election”.

“One of Manuel Mallia’s first acts as home affairs minister was to visit the prison, where he received a hero’s welcomes by inmates who started shouting ‘Malta Taghna Lkoll’ as he pledged to grant them an amnesty,” he recounted. 

He reiterated his call on Carmelo Abela to resign as minister, in light of the three recent suicides by prisoners under police custody.

“As an Opposition MP, you had voted in favour of a no confidence motion against [former Nationalist home affairs minister] Carm Mifsud Bonnici for reasons that included a prisoner having committed suicide under police custody,” he said. “You were perfectly willing to remove Mifsud Bonnici, but you are now not willing to shoulder your own responsibility.”

The minister retorted that he has always been willing to shoulder political responsibility, but will await the outcomes of magisterial inquiries into the suicides before making a decision. He lashed out at the Opposition, accusing them of lacking credibility when criticising prison conditions.

“If prison conditions had been perfect up until March 2013, then I would say that they have a point,” he said. “27 prisoners have attempted suicide under police custody since 2010, the majority of which were under the previous administration”.

He argued that the government had implemented measures that had been recommended by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture following its visit to Malta in 2011.

Minister Carmelo Abela displays pictures comparing current and past conditions of police lock-up. Photo: Ray Attard
Minister Carmelo Abela displays pictures comparing current and past conditions of police lock-up. Photo: Ray Attard

“Indeed, we introduced 25 measures to improve the conditions at the police lock-up,” he said, displaying to the cameras pictures comparing the current and past conditions of the lock-up cells.

‘Police force must enter the modern era’

Abela claimed that Malta’s police force “must enter the modern era”, citing in-work training for police officers and the recruitment of non-police professionals to assist the heavily burdened Economic Crimes Unit.

When questioned by Balzan on former acting police commissioner Ray Zammit’s business relationship with the notorious Joe Gaffarena, Abela simply said that police officers aren’t forbidden from purchasing shares in a company.

However, Fenech Adami warned that “blaming the system” was not enough, when “Castille is embroiled in Malta’s greatest scandal in recent years” – referring to the Gaffarena expropriation case.

“Once the National Audit report was published, the Prime Minister – the emperor himself – personally ordered the police commissioner to investigate the Lands Department. The police turned up at the department the following day and treated its employees as criminals. However, the police didn’t investigate Castille and seize laptops and files from it, even though this scandal has its roots at the very top of government.” 

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