Three makeshift security guards who had infamously locked journalists inside Castille following a late press conference by then Prime Minister Joseph Muscat last year have been found not guilty of charges pressed against them.
The three men, Mark Gauci, Emanuel McKay and Jody Pisani, had been charged by the police with holding four journalists against their will last November, including Paul Caruana Galizia, son of assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
This incident took place at the peak of a political crisis, right after Muscat addressed a press conference at 3am to announce that Cabinet had rejected a second request for a presidential pardon from Yorgen Fenech, the main suspect in the Caruana Galizia assassination.
Media houses were left bitterly disappointed after Muscat answered only a handful of questions before leaving the room. Several makeshift security guards then physically blocked journalists from leaving the room, stopping them from asking further questions to Muscat and his Cabinet members.
This turned out to be Muscat’s last press conference and he announced his resignation as Prime Minister a few days later.
However, magistrate Joe Mifsud today dismissed the police’s charges that the men held journalists against their will, ruling that he wasn’t “morally convinced that the prosecution met the required grade of proof”.
He was also critical of the manner in which the police conducted their investigation.
“The court is very displeased with how investigations took place. This case took place on 29th November 2019, a police report was filed on 2nd December and charges were pressed on 14th July 2020,” he said.
“Police had over eight months to investigate and gather all the necessary witness testimony and evidence to present a court case.”
“No one should expect the court to fix the shortcomings of others. The court rules on cases that are brought in front of it, and not on what is said outside these halls, in a media report, a news portal or on social media.”
Mifsud said he couldn’t establish who gave the order for the doors to be locked but noted that footage showed an unidentified person eventually opening it from outside the room.
“It therefore seems as though the doors weren’t being controlled from within.”
He also ruled that the three men didn’t use any physical violence or stop the journalists from filming them, and criticised journalists for the way they reacted once the doors were opened.
“It seems like the situation descended into a free for all, which is unacceptable in any building, be it public or private. When someone enters a building as a guest or to conduct work, they’re not expected to take over the building.”
The three men were defended by lawyers Ramona Attard (also president of the Labour Party), Charlon Gouder and Matthew Xuereb.