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EXCLUSIVE | Sunday, 27 April 2008

MAN ALLEGES BRUTAL POLICE BEATING BEFORE DYING

A man whom police claimed escaped a police escort and fell down the bastions beneath the Floriana police HQ, said on his deathbed he was beaten up by his interrogating police officers and thrown off the bastions, MaltaToday can confirm. Nicholas Azzopardi, from Floriana, was 38 years old when he died five days ago. A day later on the 9 April, police issued a statement stating a man had escaped from police HQ, jumped over a wall overlooking the trade school behind the HQ, and taken to hospital where he was in danger of dying. When 13 days later, Azzopardi came to his senses and regained his ability to talk, he recounted his tragic ordeal. Three hours before his death, Magistrate Tonio Vella was questioning him over allegations that he had been beaten up while in police custody, then thrown off the bastions beneath the police depot. He even said he was in a position to recognise the officers, but he recalled the two police officers having no visible police numbers on their epaulets. The shocking allegations have been kept under wraps.
The police did not give any details about the victim’s allegations but when contacted yesterday, Home Affairs and Justice Minister Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici confirmed that the magistrate had interrogated Azzopardi shortly before his death. The minister said Police Commissioner John Rizzo had not informed him about the case and that he was only aware of it through the scant press reports carrying the official police statement. However, after checking with Rizzo yesterday, Mifsud Bonnici confirmed that police officers were also under investigation although no internal inquiry was launched by the Commissioner. “The magisterial inquiry takes precedence, as it covers all the aspects of the case,” the minister said. “People have been interrogated, including police officers.”
On 8 April, Nicholas Azzopardi, a senior Enemalta foreman and father of two, was called in at the police HQ where he faced a gruelling interrogation by two police officers when at one point, he was allegedly manhandled by the officers.
Azzopardi, a well-built man, retaliated by pushing one of the officers against the wall. But a kick by the other officer in his ribcage left him with four broken ribs and a punctured lung. Azzopardi subsequently lost consciousness.
Azzopardi was later found in a ditch by the bastions beneath the police HQ, behind the CID building. That evening, the police issued a statement saying a man had been injured when he jumped over a wall while trying to escape from police headquarters. The incident was reported to have taken place at around 6pm, claiming the man evaded an escorting officer and tried to escape by jumping over a wall.
Civil Protection Department officers were called in to rescue Azzopardi, who was certified to be in danger of losing his life and suffering from very serious injuries. He was taken to the Intensive Therapy Unit at Mater Dei and given his last rites.
Azzopardi died in Ward 1 on 22 April. Three hours earlier Magistrate Tonio Vella had talked to him at length in private, while three senior police officers hung around in the corridor outside.

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