AFM officer cleared of tampering with evidence relating to migrant's death

Court had failed to address precise circumstances that could have led to crime

A soldier who last year had been handed an 18-month prison term after he was found guilty of tampering with evidence walked free today after his conviction was revoked on appeal.

Lance Bombardier Gordon Pickard, 38, of Żabbar, had been convicted of changing details about the brutal death of Malian Mamadou Kamara, 32, who was certified dead in a Detention Service van outside the Paola health centre on the night of June 29, 2012, so as to cover up for two colleagues implicated in the violence.

The court of appeal, presided by Madam Justice Edwina Grima, noted that the sentence of the first court had failed to address the precise circumstances that could have led to this crime being committed.

“In fact, the considerations of the Court of Magistrates consist of a series of thoughts on how, in its view, the events took place. How those thoughts point to the crime in question remains, with the greatest of respect, a mystery.”

The court pointed out that for the crime to exist there had to be evidence of suppression, destruction or changes of material evidence. “False declarations to the police do not constitute this crime. This is a provision that deals with the material traces of a crime," the court observed.

Judge Edwina Grima held that making a false declaration of what had occurred to the police “can never constitute” the crime of suppression or destruction of evidence as envisaged by the court of first instance.

The court concluded that the first court had reached the conclusion that the actions of the three AFM officers had been intended as a mise en scene “only on the basis of conjecture and not concrete evidence.”

There was no evidence proving that the officers had come up with the plan while in the van, the court pointed out, much less to show that the accused had hatched the plan.

Indeed, the court observed, the accused had, during police investigation, given a detailed account of the events of that fateful night and enabled charges of homicide to be pressed against the other two officers. "How can the prosecution then charge him with attempting to pervert the course of justice?” the court declared.