Fireworks storage court sentence ‘absurd’
Sentencing Mark Agius to two years imprisonment for illegally storing fireworks in the Naxxar Peace Band Club basement was “inexplicable” and “absurd”, his lawyers have submitted in an appeal.
Joe Giglio and Stephen Tonna Lowell contend that the Magistrates’ Court made a “completely mistaken” evaluation of the evidence brought before it.
On December 3, Magistrate Silvio Meli sentenced Mr Agius to two years’ imprisonment to send a “clear message” about a dangerous situation where the safety of others had been “callously ignored”.
The illegally stored fireworks were discovered in the club’s basement in May 2008, some seven weeks after a blast in Ħal-Dejf Street demolished three houses and killed two people – Paul Camilleri, 47, the man suspected of illegally manufacturing fireworks in his garage, and his neighbour Sina Sammut, a 35-year-old mother of two.
The magistrate ruled it was impossible for Mr Agius not to have noticed the premises were packed with boxes of explosives and gunpowder. But Mr Agius told The Sunday Times last week he had never seen or suspected anything because all the boxes were hidden in a small room whose entrance was concealed behind a tall white cupboard.
Mr Agius had spoken about his fears for his job with the health service and the hazy future as long as the conviction hung over his head. The 42-year-old insisted his only interests were the band and decorations used during the feast.
Handing down judgment, Magistrate Meli ruled that the incriminating material was not kept exclusively in the secret room and was instantly noticeable once anyone set foot in the basement.
In the appeal, the lawyers submit that the court based its decision on photos that were taken after the boxes had been brought out of the secret hiding place where they had been stored. These photos derailed the court.
“It is exactly this misconception that pushed the court to reach the wrong conclusion that the defendant knew about the existence of these explosives,” according to the appeal.
“This conclusion was based on the fact that the objects were visible to whoever went down to the basement... The Magistrates’ Court relied on what appeared in the photos and ignored (or it probably escaped the court) what expert Jeffrey Curmi said that all the explosive material was discovered in this small room.”
Police Inspector Elton Taliana had also told the court: “The fireworks we discovered were hidden behind a paint cupboard. It concealed a small room... piled with boxes full of fireworks related material.”
The lawyers point out that before the police uncovered these explosives in the secret room, they had conducted at least one search of the basement and found nothing.
Therefore, the court’s ruling that the explosives were visible in the basement’s external part, where Mr Agius could easily see them when he went down to regulate the timer of the club’s lighting system, “did not make sense”.
The appeal quotes Insp. Taliana’s testimony in court when he said: “The fireworks were very well hidden and there was no way you could see them.”
The lawyers also state that police conceded that the only reason Mr Agius was charged was because he held the key to the basement.
There are three others who had a copy of this key: two were in the hands of committee members (the club’s committee of 10 men and a woman were charged in a separate case, which has not yet been concluded); while the other was in the hands of Mr Camilleri, who was responsible for the Ħal-Dejf blast.