Man con­victed of de­fil­ing 11-year-old niece ac­quit­ted af­ter girl re­tracts al­le­ga­tions

Malta Independent - - News -

A man who was sen­tenced to three years in prison for al­legedly de­fil­ing his 11 year-old niece dur­ing a card game, ten years ago, has been ac­quit­ted af­ter the girl re­tracted the al­le­ga­tions which had been made by her ma­nip­u­la­tive mother.

The man had filed an ap­peal af­ter he was jailed for three years by the court of Mag­is­trates in 2014, hav­ing been found guilty of de­fil­ing the child, aged just 11 at the time, and in­duc­ing her to en­gage in sex­u­ally ex­plicit acts.

The ac­cused had protested his in­no­cence, claim­ing that he would oc­ca­sion­ally play cards with his niece, but only in his mother’s kitchen and upon the girl’s in­sis­tence.

The ap­peal was pri­mar­ily over the fact that the man’s con­vic­tion had been based solely on the child’s tes­ti­mony, de­spite ‘se­ri­ous doubts’ hav­ing been ex­pressed about it. The court of Mag­is­trates had in­ex­pli­ca­bly side­lined the ac­cused’s ac­count of events as well as that of other de­fence wit­nesses, he had ar­gued.

The court of ap­peal heard how the girl had, at the time of the two al­leged in­ci­dents, been in the midst of her par­ents’ sepa­ra­tion at the time. She had told her par­ents that she wished to move in with her fa­ther, in­stead of with her mother and mother’s new part­ner.

It had been the mother who filed the crim­i­nal com­plaint against the un­cle of her own ac­cord, with­out even in­form­ing the fa­ther. She had then al­legedly con­fis­cated the girl’s mo­bile phone at the start of pro­ceed­ings to pre­vent com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the fa­ther un­til she and other ma­ter­nal rel­a­tives had tes­ti­fied.

The court ob­served that whilst tes­ti­fy­ing via video con­fer­ence, the mi­nor had come across as un­cer­tain when she was asked about what item of cloth­ing had been re­moved dur­ing an in­ci­dent, al­legedly dur­ing a game of cards in a bed­room in­side the pa­ter­nal grand­par­ents’ home.

The girl had replied that she had for­got­ten, be­fore burst­ing into tears and say­ing that she didn’t want her un­cle to go to prison.

Af­ter the al­leged abuse, the girl had sent her un­cle a friend re­quest on Face­book, re­peat­edly ask­ing to be re­united with her fa­ther’s side of the fam­ily.

In December 2017, af­ter the ap­peal had been heard and the case ad­journed for judg­ment, the vic­tim, who by then had turned 18, had filed an ap­pli­ca­tion re­quest­ing leave to tes­tify again and ask­ing the court to ap­ply any pun­ish­ment be­low the pre­scribed min­i­mum.

Then, in Fe­bru­ary this year, the girl had filed a note, with­draw­ing her crim­i­nal com­plaint and re­nounc­ing to all the charges.

The Court of Crim­i­nal Ap­peal, presided over by judge An­to­nio Mizzi, noted that both the al­leged vic­tim and her mother had said they had for­given the ac­cused when in front of the Mag­is­trates’ Court.

High­light­ing the fact that a crim­i­nal com­plaint could be with­drawn right up to the mo­ment be­fore fi­nal judg­ment is de­liv­ered, the court thereby over­turned the con­vic­tion.

A ban on the pub­li­ca­tion of all names in­volved was also or­dered by the judge.

Lawyers Franco De­bono and Mar­ion Camil­leri were de­fence coun­sel.

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