MaltaToday | 13 August 2008

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NEWS | Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Magistrate claims Azzopardi jumped, rules out police brutality

The magisterial inquiry into the death of Nicholas Azzopardi has established that the 38-year-old man, who died on 22 April after claiming he had been beaten up and thrown off a wall by police interrogators, was not beaten by anyone, according to a home affairs ministry statement issued yesterday afternoon.
Announcing that the inquiry by Magistrate Antonio Vella was concluded and passed on to the ministry and the Attorney General, government said the findings showed that Azzopardi was not beaten by anyone during his two days in custody on 8 and 9 April.
According to a summary of the court’s conclusions distributed by the Department of Information, Azzopardi “escaped from police custody” on 9 April at around 5:59pm, jumping off a three-storey wall into a school ground. Azzopardi died 13 days later at Mater Dei hospital.
“At no time was there any aggression, beatings or violence on Nicholas Azzopardi from a member or members of the police, during the time when he was in their custody from Tuesday, 8 April at 3:15pm till 9 April, 5:59pm, when he escaped and jumped off,” the statement said.
Azzopardi’s brother, Reno, however contested the magistrate’s conclusions, claiming they were mainly based on a film clip that was inconclusive.
“I’ve been shown the police CCTV footage, showing Nicholas from behind, walking accompanied by Sergeant Adrian Lia and Constable Reuben Zammit,” his brother said.
“He then appears again unaccompanied, looking over balustrades and walking back, out of the screen. So the video really proves nothing, if anything it shifts the onus back onto the police as to why he was left unaccompanied at that time and requires explanations about the alleged scratches that one of the police officers is said to have suffered trying to stop him from jumping.”
The statement also reiterated the police version that a constable (PC 1359) sustained minor injuries on his forearms trying to stop Azzopardi from jumping off the wall.
The government added that Azzopardi’s injuries were “compatible with a trauma after falling from a height, given that they are all situated on one side of Azzopardi’s body and are the result of a violent impact with a hard surface”.
Azzopardi’s brother however also disputed the validity of the police footage supplied to the magistrate.
“They are saying it was shot on Wednesday, but we have no way of knowing whether that’s true or not. If they have the footage they should also show the film of him entering police headquarters on Tuesday.”
Attempts to read the full inquiry yesterday proved futile as the AG’s office works only half days in summer.
The government said the inquiry showed the magistrate had diligently examined all the details of the case according to the evidence brought in front of him.
For his inquiry, Magistrate Vella nominated 10 experts from the medical, legal and audio-visual fields, and heard 71 witnesses.
Meanwhile Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici said yesterday that he was still awaiting another inquiry by Judge Albert Manchè into the same case so that he could reach his own final conclusions.

A proven liar
However, the two police officers who had interrogated Azzopardi - Police Sergeant 656 Adrian Lia and Police Constable 1359 Reuben Zammit – were never suspended by the police force pending the magisterial inquiry.
One of the two police officers who interrogated Azzopardi at the Floriana headquarters, a main witness in this case, had deceived the police force and the government into believing he had saved a woman from drowning 10 years ago.
Police Sergeant Adrian Lia, who interrogated Azzopardi at the police depot where the deceased sustained the injuries leading to his death, had duped the nation into believing he had behaved heroically by jumping into the ice cold sea in Sliema to save Mary Farrugia on 23 December 1997.
Lia – then a 23-year-old police constable – was awarded a gold medal for bravery after claiming to have saved the 54-year-old woman from Sliema as she was drowning.
Barely two months later, Lia’s fabrication was proved beyond doubt when all the eyewitnesses recounted how he did not even touch the sea, let alone dive in to save the woman. Lia was stripped of the decoration and a police investigation had concluded that “steps should be taken” against him for his false reports.
And yet, Lia, who is a member of the police corps since July 1992, was eventually promoted to the rank of police sergeant.

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MaltaToday News
13 August 2008

Message in a bottle-ban

Saviour Balzan
The inquiry by Magistrate Tonio Vella has concluded that the late Nicky Azzopardi jumped off the bastions of the CID headquarters, and was not beaten up by police.

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