The Pierre Bartolo case: the police commissioner has to explain himself

Published: July 15, 2010 at 8:10am
Anglu Farrugia is now attacking the magistrate for not handing down the judgement he wanted - 1984 all over again

Anglu Farrugia is now attacking the magistrate for not handing down the judgement he wanted - 1984 all over again

I’ve just played an archived video-clip taken from a Super One news broadcast, in which one of the two moustachioed deputy leaders of the Labour Party is shown walking out of the Police Headquarters looking remarkably like Oliver Hardy minus his bowler hat, off to deliver a blow to his sidekick Stan Laurel, feet mincing, arms swinging, and lips pursed with self-satisfied determination.

Then Anglu Farrugia hits a bank of microphones and miniature recorders. The reporters are all agog. This makes a welcome change from ‘Man injured in car crash’, ‘Puppies Dumped in Skip’ and ‘Woman falls off balcony’.

This is Inspector Gadget’s moment of glory and his face is alight. He tells the throng that he has just presented the police commissioner with a dossier of evidence – a full three pages of it – including ‘hundreds of names’ of people whose ‘votes were bought’ in the last general election. He even gives the amount of money which changed hands (those votes were going cheap, I must say).

He doesn’t say who bought them and why. He expects the reporters to assume, which they do, that because he is a Labour MP, then they were potential Labour votes bought by agents of the Nationalist Party.

Not one of the reporters asks him how he succeeded in fitting ‘hundreds of names’ and all that conclusive evidence on three A4 sheets, even if he used single-line spacing, the smallest possible font in 8-point, and printed them on both sides of the sheet.

Nobody even bothered to ask him whether he wrote the report himself or got somebody else to do it, given that every piece of written communication from him which I have seen, from his website to his electoral mail-shots (I am one of his constituents) has distinguished itself by virtue of its stand-out qualities of mangled syntax, poor spelling, frightening grammar, and interesting use of excitable adjectives.

Anglu Farrugia’s dossier of exhaustive evidence was so poor and so shoddy (and this from a former police inspector, one of the force’s ace investigators in the days of Commissioner Lawrence Pullicino, though he would prefer us not to remember that) that the police prosecuted only one man.

And we discovered yesterday that they shouldn’t even have done that, because they had no case and no evidence.

So why did the police press on – because they gave in to pressure from their former colleague, and needed to do something to shut him up and buy themselves a little peace?

Because they don’t know the meaning of fundamental human rights and that behaviour like this can end up in Strasbourg?

Because they cannot distinguish between the significance of a political case and the theft of a handbag?

I certainly hope that they didn’t do it to buy themselves brownie points from the man who, in one of life’s sick jokes, will be deputy prime minister in three years’ time and almost certainly minister of the interior and responsible for the police force.

Because of what appears to be a collusion of interests – the police wanting to keep Anglu Farrugia happy and Anglu Farrugia wanting to impress the Labour Party’s delegates as he stood for election as deputy leader – Pierre Bartolo was prosecuted and put through hell, his name bandied about in all the newspapers and with great relish on Super One.

He was made out to be a criminal. He was exposed to public scrutiny and the opprobrium of Super One’s viewers. He had his life turned upside down by court appearances, police notices and consultations with lawyers.

All the police had was what Anglu Farrugia told them about what two or three people had told him about what Pierre Bartolo had told them, and even that was not in the least bit incriminating and involved neither intimidation nor the sale of votes.

I hope Bartolo doesn’t take this lying down and goes all the way to the European Court of Human Rights. I just cannot believe how the police can be allowed to get away with such appalling behaviour, that they are not asked to justify their actions, that there is no inquiry, and that such blatant abuse is simply accepted as though we are in the pre-1987 period.

In our perverse manner of reasoning, do we see the ‘balance of powers’ as having worked acceptably because the government is Nationalist, the man put through this hideous torture supports the Nationalist Party, and the police acted on the instigation of the Labour deputy leader?

If so, then this country is even crazier and less familiar with the meaning of democracy and civil liberties than I had hitherto believed.

What Pierre Bartolo endured amounts to no less than severe political harassment at the hands of the Labour Party, aided and abetted by the police who had no case against him. This government makes a point of explaining that it does not interfere with the workings of the police force and in who is prosecuted or not. That is at it should be. But it now has a duty to order an inquiry as to why somebody was prosecuted on the instigation of a politician, for political reasons, when there was no evidence to justify such action.

I think we are rapidly re-entering a dangerous era in which the police think nothing of prosecuting individuals, seeing it as routine, looking at it as a way to ‘keep themselves covered’ and forgetting that each case is momentous on an individual basis and must be justified and justifiable by hard evidence. Prosecution without evidence, or prosecution for the hell of it, is tantamount to human rights abuse.

The police have discretion, always, but they prefer not to use it. Instead of assuming the full responsibility of their role, they behave like jobsworth civil servants, desperate to keep their backsides covered, acting on complaints that should never end up in court. The prosecution of that chap who posted comments about the pope on Facebook was one such case. The prosecution of that student editor with the ‘dirty story’ was another. This is insanity, and it is making this island a horrible and unsafe place to live in.

Having gone through a similar experience as Pierre Bartolo’s in 1984 – when I was arrested, interrogated and prosecuted on 11 trumped-up and blatantly false charges, also on the instigation of Anglu Farrugia, who was then a police officer – I simply cannot accept the fact that these things are still permitted to happen.

It was serious then, and the magistrate noted the seriousness of the abuse at the time, and it is even more worrying now when we are supposed to have moved beyond, but clearly have not. So people are not being beaten up in police cells anymore. Oh, so that’s all right then. But trumped-up charges are fine, because no blood is involved.

This is not in any way ‘just another case’. The implications of what has gone on here are tremendous.

It is shocking that a man’s life can be thrown into turmoil when he is made the victim of political harassment and prosecuted when there is no case, with his accuser, the future deputy prime minister, not being put under pressure to resign and with no explanation being demanded of the of the police commissioner by his minister and, more pertinently, by the electorate.

The police commissioner has to explain his actions in allowing this to happen. This is a man’s life we are talking about, his basic human rights. It is a political case, and not the theft of a car or a row between neighbours.

We need an immediate explanation from him, an inquiry by the minister of the interior, and the resignation of Anglu Farrugia as deputy party leader.

I think Joseph Muscat must realise by now, even if his delegates do not, that Farrugia is not deputy prime minister material. We cannot have a deputy prime minister who appears not to understand the meaning of evidence, that even political opponents have fundamental human rights, and that it is no longer 1984, when police prosecution was routinely used to score political points, harass political enemies, and as a form of political intimidation.

Anglu Farrugia has not only failed to understand the seriousness of his abusive behaviour in Bartolo’s regard, but he has now proceeded to compound the situation by attacking the magistrate who delivered the judgement. She doesn’t know the law, he said. She was wrong. Fine, there are some cases in which this might be true, and when judgements can and should be criticised – the ‘Stitching’ judgement springs immediately to mind – but this is not one of them.

It would have been horrific if Magistrate Audrey Demicoli had convicted Pierre Bartolo on the basis of that ‘evidence’. I am surprised she did not go further and issue a condemnation of the way Bartolo was prosecuted on the basis of a throwaway remark and political pressure.

There is another point. Anglu Farrugia is not just some ordinary lawyer criticising a judgement. In three years’ time he will be deputy prime minister and possibly also the minister responsible for appointing judges. When magistrates suffer his displeasure, they know that they have suffered the displeasure of the man who will almost certainly decide, sooner rather than later, whether they will be appointed to the higher court or not.

The same can be said of the police commissioner. He succumbed to the demands of somebody who, in three years’ time, might very well be in a position to remove him. And that is the most pressing reason for him to give an explanation now and put himself forward for grilling.

Anglu Farrugia is completely out of order. Magistrate Demicoli put the law and justice before her own narrow interests, but we can’t count on all other magistrates doing the same. They might try to keep Anglu Farrugia happy, to suck up to him, while at the same time twisting their reasoning to accommodate their consciences. One’s right to a fair hearing is thus severely compromised.

If we abandon the basic principle that the police must have a case and hard evidence before they subject an individual to the horrors and stress of criminal prosecution, then we have laid the way wide open once more for police action and prosecution to be used as a tool in the armoury of political harassment.

With this story as a precedent, any influential politician can trump up accusations for his own ends or those of his political party, then exert pressure on the police, and some benighted soul finds himself pegged out in the sun and eaten alive by driver-ants.

Before 1987, they used to bother to fake a case – securing signatures to false confessions by telling the interrogated that they would not be permitted to leave their pitch-black, faeces-smeared cell until they did (me); planting murder weapons on the property of the falsely accused (Pietru Pawl Busuttil) – but now it seems they don’t even bother to do that.

The future deputy prime minister comes along with a couple of rumours and a bit of ‘detto del detto’ and the police proceed to disrupt a man’s life and expose him to hideous stress and public contempt by prosecuting him and making him the subject of high-profile political coverage.

Which is worse – faking a case or not even bothering with that? The answer is not as obvious as you might think.

A version of this article is published in The Malta Independent today.




51 Comments Comment

  1. Anthony says:

    A sorry state of affairs in our country. In my humble opinion a consequence of weak government.

  2. Brian says:

    I fail to understand as to why our courts of law haven’t reprimanded Anglu and the Commissioner of Police for ‘framing’ Mr. Bartolo and wasting the court’s valuable time on this so-called corruption case. Really Orwellian, I must say. Morru tqarbnu issa ta, Sur Rizzo w Anglu.

  3. Bus Driver says:

    Prosit tassew. Apart from highlighting the questionable police handling of this particular case, your article clearly illustrates the seriously deficient quality and level of awareness that prevails in journalism.

    Journalists simply accept and transmit what they hear, instead of thinking about and scrutinising what they are being told. The docile and unquestioning stance invariably adopted by journalists is one reason why in some instances certain people have been literally able to get away with murder.

  4. JP Bonello says:

    This morning all serious Labourites have woken up ashamed of their Deputy Leader’s behaviour.

    Anglu Farrugia: resign!

  5. David Buttigieg says:

    Do police have to ‘clear’ their case with the Attorney General’s office before prosecuting?

    Elsewhere, a ‘case’ like this would have been thrown out by the district attorney or whatever before reaching the courts.

  6. A. Charles says:

    Do the police ask for advice from the Attorney General’s office when such a case arises?

  7. Kurt Mifsud Bonnici says:

    “I certainly hope that they didn’t do it to buy themselves brownie points from the man who, in one of life’s sick jokes, will be deputy prime minister in three years’ time … ”

    Are you that certain that a Labour government will be elected in three years time?

    [Daphne – Yes.]

    • JP Bonello says:

      Why are you so sure?

      [Daphne – What are the odds? Labour was almost elected two years ago. 750 people made the difference. And the party was led by tried-tested-and-found-wanting Alfred Sant running against Lawrence Gonzi. If HE almost made it, Muscat’s chances are much better, and five years later. The thing is that people don’t do what they should do, which is compare party leaders or at least compare parties. Instead, they look at what they have, decide they want to remove it, and don’t spare a moment to consider what the alternative really is. So yes, I’m pretty sure.]

      • jomar says:

        Alfred Sant was tried and found wanting and he lost the last election by a whisker.

        Now we have Joseph Muscat – never elected, immature, never on time, untested, cocksure, presumptuous and stretcher of the truth and yet Daphne thinks that the electorate will prefer him to Gonzi!

        I think that Daphne is using reverse psychology in order to shake the apathy of some traditional Nationalist voters who have not bothered to vote for their Party in the last election.

        The Labour Party today is by far more dangerous and can do much more damage then the Mintoff and KMB regimes of the 70s and 80s.

        [Daphne – I am not using reverse psychology. I genuinely believe that Lawrence Gonzi will lose the next election, which is quite different from saying that I believe Muscat will win it. Muscat will win by default. If if Gonzi performs miracles, it will be very hard for him to win because people become tetchy after a certain number of years. In their anxiety to get rid of what they have, they don’t bother to think about what lies ahead. You see this in all areas of life. Choosing a government is no different.]

    • Mini-Tiananmen square says:

      Don’t under estimate the Nationalist party. They have brains, charm, foresight and a JPO.

      • ciccio2010 says:

        I am still not sure if JPO is an asset or a liability for the PN. Whichever, the truth (sweet or sour, depending on above) is that the PN has 2 JPOs. He was elected on 2 districts.

      • ciccio2010 says:

        On further reflection, it could be that one JPO is an asset, and the other JPO is a liability…

      • David Buttigieg says:

        Yes,

        But they had Sant back then, Sant has now become a non-entity.

    • Brian says:

      What you are then saying is, that around 5000 voters (give or take a few thousand) who previously voted P.N. shall now vote Labour. And why is that may I ask you?

  8. TROY says:

    The police commissioner has to explain himself – sure, like he explained himself when he was Pullicino’s secretary. Surely this commissioner knew what was going on at the Police Depot at the time of the infamous Pullicino, but all the Nationalist government was able to do to him was promote him to the highest post in the police force.

    Well done, sur prim ministru – now we have a police force that has lost its marbles! NOBODY DIRIGERE NOS.

  9. Rover says:

    Clearly this pathetic and sad excuse for a politician still operates with the mindset of the Mintoff, Lorry Sant and Pullicino days. But then why should we be surprised? You only have to read some comments by Labour supporters.

    In three years time there is a chance that this country might be mired again in the same sewage of a generation ago.

  10. JP Bonello says:

    “The same can be said of the police commissioner. He succumbed to the demands of somebody who, in three years’ time, might very well be in a position to remove him. And that is the most pressing reason for him to give an explanation now and put himself forward for grilling.”

    Alas, the Commissioner is not man enough.

  11. Edward Clemmer says:

    It is rather dangerous when someone’s “fictions” or “beliefs” or “perceptions” become the basis for quasi-religious political witch-hunting, and even worse when those ideas are turned into “facts” and serve the basis for the criminal prosecution of individuals, almost on a random basis, if rumour or perception is the only basis for those charges against an innocent person.

    If the matter concerned Creationist beliefs that the world is only 6,000 years old, we might chuckle, until those persons demand such nonsense be included in the curriculum of science classes in schools.

    Other harmless persons with their crazy ideas may be simply dismissed, unless their ideas become a danger to others, in which case there may be hospitals and psychiatrists to intervene for the protection of society, or for the protection of the individual, who also may be in danger of harming himself.

    But in this case, we have the police subjecting a person to criminal investigation and prosecution without any justifiable evidence, except for the noisy banging of a prominently-placed politician.

    As you have done, we should ask why the police pursued the matter without any real evidence, which is the scientific and legal standard.

    But when the perpetrator of this legal action also holds no regard for the judgment of the court, and persists in his error by insisting no such crimes will be allowed to take place during the next election (still justifying his present errors, since there is no evidence for such things to have occurred), we have an individual who does not use the standard conventions at law and in reality, that ordinarily would be held in check by the protections of normal society against the ordinary crackpot.

    But the perpetrator of this case may actually get to run the show some political day. And he already has a personal history that is a disgrace in the area of justice and internal Maltese affairs. History is replete with such tragic examples in dictatorships and fascist regimes.

    Where goest the Police? Where goest Labour? What political ghosts are lurking to be unleashed from the still recent Maltese historical past, or present?

    • Harry Purdie says:

      The thugs cometh.

    • Brian says:

      @ Edward Clemmer

      I sincerely believe that it’s the fault of the present ruling party. I used to hear a saying going back some years now, that ‘In-Nazzjonalisti ma jitghallmu qatt’. I have come to believe this, why?

      Take a look at the Police Corps – who is running the show may I ask? I cringe when I remember the fact that some of Labour’s henchmen where promoted by the P.N. government.

      Others where not incriminated for their callous beatings and torture (not only physical, but mental) if I may add, on P.N. sympathisers during the 70’s and 80’s M.L.P. reign.

      Take this s’ whole (no typo here) of Anglu Farrugia, it’s a given fact that he hates (since his law and disorder days) anyone who has a P.N. leaning. Why hasn’t this dubious person been made to account for his behaviour? Ask Daphne here because she has crossed his path back then.

      No, my dear P.N., you are not close to the people, and you never have been. I am truly sorry to say this, but it is a fact because the P.N. today stands for arrogance, and blast you to Hades too P.L. as I can never forgive or forget those terrible years when you ruined and ‘raped’ our beautiful island and literally sent people to their graves.

  12. Leonard says:

    Very good article. But let’s not hide behind Anglu Farrugia. With EU membership in 2004, Malta seemingly reached an apex in terms of political and social qualities. Then, instead of continuing to move forward, things started to deteriorate; slowly at first, at a more accelerated pace since the election of 2008. The fact that the PL is likely to be in government in three years’ time does not make it less sad that these things are happening under a party that was once elected on a call for justice and liberty.

    • H.P. Baxxter says:

      Absolutely. At least someone else has noticed it. It’s been back to the old corruption and incompetence since 2004.

  13. freefalling says:

    The elephant man has a serious problem and he has now gone far beyond the limits of decency.

    He is a compulsive liar and a bully and pushes his weight around without considering the character assasination fallout !

    I sincerely believe what Daphne commented about – Anglu Farrugia wanting to impress the Labour Party’s delegates as he stood for election as deputy leader – serious food for thought.

  14. ciccio2010 says:

    Do I have the facts right? There were up to 200 persons listed on those 3 pages, with votes valued from as low as Euro 14,000 (at Euro 70 each) to Euro 300,000 (at Euro 1500 each) – never mind the ones sold for “pjaciri” (exclamation mark). Three years after the general elections, only one person has been taken to Court, and his case dismissed by the magistrate in what may be an ECHR case. What about the other 199 cases? Is the police still compiling the evidence, despite the dossier prepared and submitted so pompously by Anglu Farrugia, future Deputy Prime Minister?
    What a farce. At least, we can sit back and relax this summer in the knowledge that the last general elections held more than 3 years ago were legitimate…

    • H.P. Baxxter says:

      If our judiciary had any sense it would have told Anglu Farrugia where to get off with those tliet faccati. As for our journalists, they’re an absolute disgrace to their profession. Bumbling idiots and fence-sitters to a man.

  15. J Busuttil says:

    A week is too long in politics. And with the likes of Anglu Farrugia anything can happen.

  16. K Farrugia says:

    Don’t you think that by including Pierre Bartolo’s name in the title of your blog and coloumn, you are further publicising him for the wrong reasons?

    Inspector Gadget has already provoked enough damage to this businessman.

    [Daphne – Not at all. I’m sticking up for him for the RIGHT reasons. I have to use his name to drive home the point that this is a real person who was prosecuted on charges trumped up by a former police inspector and future deputy prime minister.]

    • zebbugi says:

      quote “Inspector Gadget has already provoked enough damage to this businessman”
      As did the mouse’s head in the salad

      [Daphne – Stick to the facts. There was no mouse-head in the salad. There was a bit of bare mouse skull, which should tell you that it couldn’t possibly have come from a mouse in the kitchen.]

  17. Pravilno says:

    I understand that the accused is in business. Prosecution alone could ruin his business. Who is responsible?

  18. Riya says:

    This was a very serious case and I hope that the Police sought the AG’s advice on the case before deciding to arraign Pierre Bartolo before the court.

  19. Timotius says:

    “I simply cannot accept the fact that these things are still permitted to happen.” Yes, Daphne, they still happen. I am living proof. One day in the near future I will give you all my story, exclusively for you to publish.

    My life and that of my relatives has been turned into living hell for the last four years! No one in authority bothers, no one cares. All are heartless. Yes, in Christian, democratic Malta and in 2010.

  20. Anthony says:

    The Police Commissioner is a civil servant. The political responsibility for this shameful debacle lies with the executive branch of government. The home affairs minister is duty bound to ask both the Commissioner and the Attorney-General for a detailed report.
    He then has to make a statement to the House.

    I very much doubt if anything will come out of this. As I said before, the government is manifestly weak and concentrating on recurrent damage limitation exercises. It is just managing power.

  21. Lino Cert says:

    Pierre Bartolo is innocent of these trumped up charges, but in my book he remains guilty of dishing out utterly inedible food in the hospital canteen.

  22. tony says:

    Well Daphe remember that most police officers who had done all that in the 80 where all rewarded by the nationalist party in goverment and most where promotted in my books that is the orders came from the PN in opposition and after all they had to keep thair promises well if you think that Mr.Bartolo is an angle you are mistaken baby daphe.

    • Harry Purdie says:

      This turkey’s still breathing? Thought he disappeared last Thanksgiving.

    • TROY says:

      tony, firstly I would like to thank you for admitting to the corruption we had in the shameful 80s. Secondly my friend, what the Nationalists did after the 1987 landslide was to try and save this country of ours from the mayhem the previous corrupt government had put us in.

      Lastly tony, if you knew Mr.Bartolo as I do you would know that he’s a decent man from a good family, and he was a just an unlucky pawn in Gadget’s game of conquest.

      Now Anglu is checkmated! So howzat!

      • zebbugi says:

        “what the Nationalists did after the 1987 landslide was to try and save this country of ours from the mayhem the previous corrupt government had put us in.”
        Good! Do you mean that they were fighting fire with fire? I think that the flame was fought with wildfire.

  23. TROY says:

    zebbugi, unkindling the fire is more like it, but you’re too distorted to comprehend.

    • zebbugi says:

      I am old enough and still with no dementia to comprehend

      • TROY says:

        Unlike the party you support, because surely they have dementia – they can’t REMEMBER when they were last in office.

      • red nose says:

        Old enough to cultivate the hate that dominated during the horrible eighties – and that hate still exists within the PL delegates and deputy leaders

  24. David says:

    Dr Farrugia acted out of political opportunism in order to justify his party’s loss at the last election and his actions are to be seen in this light.

    On the other hand the Police Commissioner and the police have been unjustly attacked. It is duty of the police to investigate and prosecute criminal offences and offenders.

    While the police may exercise discretion, this must be exercised prudently as discretion may easily lead to injustices, favoritism, and subjective decisions.

    If there is no evidence and there is no case to answer then the police should not prosecute. If on the other hand there is evidence which may be considered to be scant and especially if there is conflicting evidence or evidence which may be deemed to be unreliable, it is the court and not the police which is better suited to decide this point.

  25. Antoine Vella says:

    Even had Pierre Bartolo been found guilty, let us not forget that Anglu Farrugia claims there were “hundreds” of bought votes and he has proof. We are still waiting for these “hundreds” of cases to be brought to court.

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