MaltaToday | 22 June 2008 | Sliema house collapse relatives still living ‘heartbreaking ordeal’

NEWS | Sunday, 22 June 2008

Sliema house collapse relatives still living ‘heartbreaking ordeal’

Relatives ‘astounded’ that minister protested with MaltaToday over news report that architect facing negligence suit over Rita Vella’s death, had been appointed to DCC. By Matthew Vella

The relatives of Rita Vella, the woman who was buried under the rubble of her Sliema home on April 12, 2000, when a neighbouring house under construction collapsed, have written to MaltaToday complaining about the delays in the civil proceedings over the incident that killed their mother.
Writing on behalf of his siblings, Vella’s son Paul said his family’s case for reparations has been ongoing for the past seven years.
“In all this time, we have been appearing in court and every time, we go through the same heartbreaking ordeal, hearing the constant lies being uttered by either of the accused. Only last month during one of these sittings, our eldest sister rushed out of the courtroom as she could not take any more of these lies. We keep hearing of court reforms, attempts to cut down the duration of proceedings and so on, but so far this has only been empty talk and our case is still dragging on.”
The relatives are suing architect Philip Azzopardi, the former chairman of MEPA’s development control commission (DCC), who is being charged in court over the permit issued by the DCC for a disco on the land in Mistra owned by Nationalist MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando.
But the family have expressed surprise at learning that a story in MaltaToday, that pointed out how Azzopardi was made DCC member when still facing civil proceedings over the death of Rita Vella, had been met with protest by the then environment minister George Pullicino, who appointed Azzopardi to his post.
The matter was brought up in Saviour Balzan’s column last Sunday.
“We clearly remember Mr Pullicino coming to Sliema on the day of the incident offering his sympathy and help and also offering to intervene on behalf of my brother and apply for state funds to help my brother who lost all his possessions except for his car, in that incident,” Paul Vella said.
“Needless to say, this was all a theatrical performance as no help, financial or otherwise ever came my brother’s way.
“I also remember meeting Mr Pullicino at some function in person, a few months after the incident and he had the gall to ask me whether my brother had been contacted by any state department.
“When I replied that my brother had started to rebuild his life without any state aid and that we would be going ahead with our court case and suing all concerned including the architect, he drifted away without another word.”
Vella then asks whether the fact the architect was first appointed DCC member, and chairman six months after the incident, had been on the minister’s mind.
“Was there something bothering the minister back then? Well, the answer may lie in the fact that the architect in charge of the works was to be appointed first DCC member and later chairman of the same body some six months after the incident.”
Rita Vella, 84, died a few hours after she was extracted from the destroyed house that collapsed when construction works on an adjacent house caved in. Her son, who lived with her, was not inside the house during the accident.
Her relatives also sued contractors Raymond Micallef and Raymond Calleja, claiming Azzopardi and the contractors were liable towards them in damages because the collapse of the house and their mother’s death had resulted from negligence on their part, because no suitable safety measures had been adopted.
The neighbouring house was under Azzopardi’s supervision. He was later appointed a DCC member, and six months later chairman.
Back then, the environment ministry told MaltaToday there was “absolutely no connection” between the case and Azzopardi’s ability to serve on the DCC board, while minister Pullicino conveyed his disapproving message with MaltaToday editor Saviour Balzan.

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