'Lurking doubt' leads to acquittal of Gozo Channel worker accused of theft

He pleaded his innocence all along

A Gozo Channel employee was acquitted of taking money from the cafeterias on board the company's three vessels as the evidence put forward by the prosecution did not suffice to erase the "lurking doubt" regarding the man's alleged guilt.

James Joseph Muscat, 39, from Xagħra, had been accused of stealing cash and making fraudulent gains to the detriment of the ferry company over a six-year period dating back to 2007.

The wrongdoing had come to light shortly after the appointment of Joe Cordina as company chairman in April 2013. During a meeting with the management, Mr Cordina had been notified of an alleged "widespread pilferage", a so-called "take-away" of cash from the ferry cafeterias which the company had reportedly suspected since July 2012.

Various suspects were closely monitored by the company management and on one occasion in April 2013 it was noted that Mr Muscat had failed to issue receipts for €31.35. CCTV footage was consulted to determine whether the receipts issued to customers actually tallied with the sales effected.

The police were called in to investigate and consequently, 10 employees, including Mr Muscat, were arraigned. Nine admitted to the charges and were duly sentenced. However, Mr Muscat contested the charges, pleading his innocence all the way.

The court, presided by Magistrate Joseph Mifsud, observed that it was duty-bound to conduct an in-depth analysis of all evidence put forward by the prosecution to assess the accused's guilt beyond all reasonable doubt.

In this case, after considering the photographic expert's report, the accused's statement to the police, a doctor's testimony, a social inquiry report and also the accused's own testimony, the court declared that it could not "legitimately declare the accused guilty according to law".

The court observed that the accused had appeared to be "genuine" and had believed in his own innocence all along. Rather than choosing the path taken by his fellow workmen, Mr Muscat had "faced the challenge of a judicial process so as to clear his name."

Since all evidence had not sufficed to remove the "lurking doubt" as to the man's guilt, the court granted him the benefit of the doubt and acquitted him of the accusations.

Lucio Sciriha was defence lawyer.