MaltaToday | 18 May 2008 | Manchè inquiry into Azzopardi death can be toothless

NEWS | Sunday, 18 May 2008

Manchè inquiry into Azzopardi death can be toothless

Matthew Vella

The inquiry led by retired judge Albert Manchè into the procedures followed during the ill-fated interrogation of Nicholas Azzopardi, who died 13 days after being found in a ditch below the Police depot in Floriana, will not be able to pinpoint criminal liability for what happened inside the police headquarters, if any is found.
The inquiry, launched under the Inquiries Act, is intended to establish the facts as to whether there were any administrative of operational shortcomings that could lead to disciplinary procedures, the Justice and Home Affairs Ministry told MaltaToday.
Azzopardi died 13 days after he was arrested and allegedly beaten up by police officers at the police headquarters on 8 April. Hours before he died on 22 April, he told his family and inquiring magistrate he had been heavily beaten up by his interrogators while under arrest.
Azzopardi’s death is the subject of a magisterial inquiry by Antonio Vella, which is intended to establish if there could be responsibilities of a criminal nature.
But the parallel inquiry by Manchè, launched by the government following the publication of the revelations made by Azzopardi in MaltaToday, has no judicial function, so the inquiry’s verdict has no criminal consequences.
The Chamber of Advocates and the Opposition have pointed out that government has showed a lack of trust in the judicial process by appointing Manchè to conduct a parallel inquiry.
It could mean the inquiry can have the same effect as that launched into the Safi beatings in 2005, when riot squads brutally quashed a peaceful protest by asylum seekers. The delay in finalising the inquiry suited the administration, diluting the effect of the inquiry report itself.
On that occasion, Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi bypassed the judiciary by appointing a retired judge to conduct an inquiry. No magisterial inquiry ever took place into the savage beatings of the Safi detainees and nobody was found guilty of excessive force save for one soldier who was recognisable since his visor was up.
Even in the magisterial inquiry into Nicholas Azzopardi’s death has been marked by Magistrate Vella’s unenthusiastic attitude in getting Azzopardi’s version of events, when the victim’s brother recounted how the magistrate only went to interrogate him in hospital upon the repeated insistence of his family, which included pressure from the justice minister himself.

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