Nicholas Azzopardi case enough for censure motion against minister - Evarist Bartolo
Labour MP Evarist Bartolo said today that the death of Nicholas Azzopardi after he was injured while in police custody was enough to justify the censure motion against the Minister of Home Affairs, Carm Mifsud Bonnici.
Speaking in Parliament on the second day of the debate on the censure motion, Mr Bartolo said a minister who lost a censure motion and stayed in office lost all credibility and integrity. If the prime minister wanted to keep such a minister in office, he had to move a vote of confidence in that minister.
The minister, Mr Bartolo said, had a catalogue of failures he had to account for.
The minister, however, deserved to be censured just for the case where Nicholas Azzopardi died from injuries he suffered while in police custody four years ago. The case happened just months into the minister's tenure, by the minister had not taken the actions expected of him in its wake.
Father-of-two Nicholas Azzopardi died in hospital, hours after claiming that, while under arrest, he was beaten up by two policemen who then threw him from a window at the back of police headquarters. Attorney General Peter Grech last March accepted a request by the Police Commissioner to reopen a magisterial inquiry into the death.
Mr Bartolo said that four years on and on the eve of an election, a senior Member of the House had written to the father of Nicholas Azzopardi, expressing solidarity over his loss and adding that the government wanted to see justice.
Several questions needed to be answered, Mr Bartolo said, because they had implications on the wider system.
What happened to Mr Azzopardi while he was under arrest? How had he come to be injured? What had happened in hospital, where he died? Why had the magisterial inquiries not given answers to these questions?
Indeed, why had Mr Azzopardi been arrested in the first place? Was it really about abuse on his daughter or domestic problems? It was true that reports had been made to the police about the latter, but Mr Azzopardi was never been accused of sexual abuse on his daughter, whom he loved.
Mr Bartolo said it looked like someone wanted to continue to persecute Mr Azzopardi even after his death, painting him as being cruel and insensitive. Yet a few months before he died he had taken the initiative to buy his severely autistic son a pool and he spent a lot of time with him, to the extent that a care centre which had rejected him because he used to bite other children reported after the summer that he had almost overcome his problem.
In December 2007, four months before he died, Mr Azzopardi wrote to the Commissioner of Children about his fear that his children were being abandoned - his daughter was living with his parents at the time.
In April, a few days before he died, he won custody of his children in a court case where no one alleged child abuse.
Mr Bartolo said that Mr Azzopardi was exemplary in his work at Enemalta and had rescued his colleagues when there was a major incident. His colleagues expressed incredulity when they were informed, on April 8 four years ago, that he was under arrest. They thought it was a joke.
The Azzopardi family, Mr Bartolo continued, also wanted to know what had happened in hospital. Was he taken out of ITU too early? Had he recovered sufficiently to be moved? Were his drain pipes removed too early? Would he have suffered the thrombosis which caused his death had he been given better care?
Members of the police had given two versions of what happened - that he assaulted a policeman, escaped, and jumped out of a window at police headquarters and that he had escaped and then jumped. Yet the rescue call was about a migrant who jumped out of the window.
What had happened in his cell? Why had forensic tests not been made in his cell so as not to have only a version of events by people who may have something to hide?
Why was Mr Azzopardi's car not kept in the usual place where the cars of arrested persons were kept?
How had Mr Azzopardi been hurt? X Rays showed that he had no fractures in his head and legs - which were not compatible with a fall or a jump from a window three storeys up. The X-Rays showed rub fractures which were compatible with blows. Had these blows been caused before? And they he had spine injures at his back.
How was it that Mr Azzopardi was not interviewed by a magistrate while he was conscious, on his deathbed? Why was he never asked to identify the two policemen who allegedly beat him up?
Mr Bartolo said the inquiries and investigations which were made had not given replies to these questions. The intention, it appeared, was more to exonerate the police.
The findings, he said, had even been criticised by a Council of Europe Committee Against Torture. Why was Mr Azzopardi's father initially prevented from meeting the committee. He only managed to do so with the intervention of Fr Mark Montebello and in view of the presence of a cameraman.
Why was this delegation not allowed to meet the inquiring magistrate? This must have been a political decision. What did the minister have to hide?
One of the most serious problems, Mr Bartolo said, was that there was no clear water between the police investigation and that of the magistrate. How could the police investigate themselves?
The Council of Europe Committee had suggested an independent structure to deal with such situations, but four years on, this had not happened.
The only, bitter, consolation, was that a barrier had been set up in the place where Mr Azzopardi allegedly jumped, the only place at police HQ which was not covered by CCTV.
Concluding, Mr Bartolo said Mr Azzopardi's family felt betrayed because they thought they lived in a country where justice was upheld and there was the rule of law. Action should have been taken but it wasn't. For this alone, the minister deserved to be censured.