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Warning against speculation as autopsy shows no violence on young man who died in Paceville

Suspect vilified on social media 'may have been trying to help'

Mr Meli died in Paceville. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Mr Meli died in Paceville. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Last updated 6.42pm with a statement by the deputy prime minister.

A preliminary autopsy of a 24-year-old man who died in Paceville early on Sunday showed no sign of violence, police sources have said.

Furthermore, police are now investigating whether the man they first held for questioning following the death was actually trying to help the victim. 

Zach Meli.Zach Meli.

Zach Meli died in the early hours of Sunday morning after getting into an argument in the entertainment hotspot, with various media outlets saying Mr Meli was killed by a punch thrown by a foreign national. 

Later that day, several media outlets - not Times of Malta - published a name and photograph of the man being held in police custody, although he had yet to be charged with any crime.  

Police sources however said that they do not believe Mr Meli was killed with a punch and that the rush to judge the suspect could have been misguided. 

"We know that when the victim collapsed - not with the punch - he [the suspect] tried to help," a source told Times of Malta.   

The man has now been released on police bail without charge, after preliminary autopsy results revealed no signs of violence on Mr Meli's body. 

Further tests on Mr Meli's corpse are being made.

HEALTH MINISTER WARNS AGAINST SPECULATION

Meanwhile, in a statement to Parliament, Health Minister Chris Fearne expressed his condolences to Mr Meli's family.

He said he was calling for prudence because there were many questions about the case which were still subject to the magisterial inquiry.

The worst mistake one could make was to rush to conclusions without proper information, he said, adding that the media too should proceed with caution until all tests and inquiries were concluded.  

The police and the magisterial inquiry, he said, were collecting evidence and established how matters had unfolded.

So far the autopsy had not established the cause of death and investigations were continuing.

Mr Fearne warned that a mistake in favour or against somebody could have serious consequences and one should be responsible.

This was not the time for speculation, this was time for responsibility.

CONCERNS ABOUT SITUATION IN PACEVILLE

Opposition leader Adrian Delia and Nationalist MP Beppe Fenech Adami said that without referring to this case, they were renewing their concerns about crime in general and the situation in Paceville in particular.

Dr Fenech Adami recalled that two years ago, the Opposition made 20 proposals to improve the situation in Paceville. Yet, two years on, there was a total collapse of the law in Paceville. 

As a parent he went to pick up his children Paceville, and could see roads blocked when they should not be, tables blocking pavement, young children who were drunk, and children allowed in places of entertainment when they were supposed to be banned.   

Simon Busuttil (PN) asked how many police were deployed in Paceville and whether the number had been increased as crime increased. Furthermore, what training were such officers given, in the interests of public and personal safety?

Claudio Grech (PN) asked what had become of a planned project for CCTV with facial recognition features in Paceville. He also expressed concern about people falling under the influence of synthetic drug and asked what the government would do about it. 

Herman Schiavone (PN) asked if there was some first aid clinic in Paceville. 

Replying Mr Fearne said that even one criminal case was a case too many, but cases were actually decreasing, from over 3,000 in 2012  to some 1,800 last year. Still more needed to be done, as was being done in other areas such as Marsa, Birzebbuga, and Hamrun, where the situation was also being improved. 

Police presence in Paceville had been increased, even on weekdays. With regard to synthetic drugs, the government had issued legal notices criminalising a number of synthetic substances. The police and the authorities were, as far as possible were keeping abreast with new drugs as they were developed.

Mr Fearne said first aid was available in Paceville.

SERIOUS CRIME HAS DECREASED IN PACEVILLE

Home Affairs Minister Michael Farrugia said the crime rate in the past four years was more or less static if not slightly down, despite an increase in the number of foreign residents and growth in tourism. 

As for the situation in Paceville and St Julian's, in 2012, there were 3,051 criminal cases. Last year, with a stronger police presence, crime dropped to 1,810 cases. There was a substantial drop in serious crime including arson, bodily harm, domestic violence, homicide, sexual offences and theft. What had not declined were cases related to drugs and human trafficking. 

Under this government, Dr Farrugia said, the police presence in Paceville had been extended to weekdays and not just weekends. Police strength on Paceville's streets had also increased, with 20 during weekdays, 30 on Fridays and Saturdays and 25 on Sundays up to Christmas and New Year, declining slightly thereafter. Numbers would increase again with the onset of summer. 

Separately, patrols by the Rapid Intervention Unit had also been increased and two Special Intervention Units were based there during weekends. 

Police presence had also been increased in Marsa and Birzebbuġa and there were similar plans for Qawra and Bugibba. Last weekend, 18 people were picked up in Marsa for questioning. 

On the CCTVs project, Dr Farrugia said such technology had proved very useful to the police and helped solve various criminal cases. 

Concluding, he said the situation in Paceville was improving, but more remained to be done and police presence would continue to be reviewed in Paceville and other localities. The aim was not just to solve crime, but to prevent it. 

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