The Malta Independent 23 February 2019, Saturday

Murder in Paceville

Mark A. Sammut Sunday, 15 July 2018, 09:34 Last update: about 8 months ago

Death is always cruel, because it severs all bonds and ties. It is also brutal, because it always has the last word, no matter the counter-arguments you might have. And there is nothing worse than death, because you will never find an answer to the question, ‘Why?’ Why him or her? Why now? Why like that?

There is nothing worse than except death by murder – because of the double brutality for those who loved the victim and have to experience the trauma of losing him or her unexpectedly and violently.


Murder is thus always a double act: it kills the victim and it inflicts a deep wound in the heart and soul of the victim’s loved ones. It also disturbs the community in which it takes place, for many reasons. It is such a devastating and lacerating deed that all the members of that community – not just the loved ones – demand justice.

Entrepreneur Hugo Chetcuti’s murder has shocked the nation and it is the second high-profile murder in a matter of months; only 10 months ago, journalist-blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated.

Both murders have been a brutal experience – for the primary victims and for us, the secondary victims: Mrs Caruana Galizia’s because of the ease with which the bomb which pulverised her was placed under her car. A high-profile journalist like her was allowed to live without (even covert) police protection and her brutal killing made it amply clear that nobody is safe. It brought to the surface our deepest repressed paranoia.

Mr Chetcuti’s murder was brutal because it was carried out in a public place, in the presence of many people, breaking that most sacred of taboos, the one which decrees that murder should be committed in secret, away from the prying eyes of onlookers, because it is shameful. Mr Chetcuti’s murder, unlike Mrs Caruana Galizia’s, was shameless.

It, too, brought to the surface our repressed paranoia. It shattered the myth that the State monopolises violence because it can actually protect us from aggressors. Ultimately, when we are attacked, our only chance of survival lies in our alertness, means of self-defence and luck. If we lack one or more of them, we are doomed.

In both cases, the alleged murderers have been apprehended. In the Caruana Galizia case, a strong argument has been made that there is somebody else behind the men who carried out the execution. In the case of Mr Chetcuti, the prevailing explanation so far seems to be that the alleged murderer was a mentally disturbed former employee.

What struck me, however, was the editorial line chosen by the (Maltese-language) news outlets of the General Workers Union, which claimed that, according to police sources, the Chetcuti murder was carried out in the style of the Balkan mafia. Furthermore, it could reflect the movement of certain currents in the criminal underworld and could be the prelude to an increase in prostitution and drug-trafficking.

An English-language online news portal, however, carried an item claiming the exact opposite, with their police sources playing down the reports that the Balkan mafia was behind Hugo Chetcuti’s murder.

One would be nothing but presumptuous if one were to pass any judgments on these early speculations. It is true that nature abhors a vacuum, and we have a tendency to start jumping to conclusions, but the rational way to go about things is to wait for the police and the judiciary to do their respective jobs.

That said, the different editorial line of the news outlets is an interesting phenomenon. More importantly, however, is the question of why the GWU news outlets chose to alarm their readers by announcing that this murder is the harbinger of a spike in criminality, if not even a mob war or worse. Given that the GWU is a major ally of the Labour Party, it is difficult to contemplate what benefit can actually accrue to the Labour government from such an editorial line.

A knee-jerk reaction could be that the authorities know that something is brewing and want to prepare the population for an increase in criminality and murders in the coming months. Another initial reaction could be that the GWU news outlets are subject to management by myopia and their editors cannot see the implications of the news they hurriedly publish. But these can only be speculations.

In the meantime, one has to think of Jonathan Ferris who is risking his life because he is privy to information which, according to certain quarters, he should take with him to the grave – be it an early one or not. If Mrs Caruana Galizia and Mr Chetcuti were extinguished with such relative ease, we can clearly sympathise with Mr Ferris whose flame of life risks being blown out with similar ease. It is high time, to my mind, that he be given the protection foreseen by the law.


My Personal Library (13)

It had to happen that I should refer to at least one of the books written by my late father, Frans Sammut. Today I want to refer to an SKS book that opened with a long short story my father wrote. The book is called Il-Qtil fi Sqaq il-Ħorr u Stejjer Oħra (1989), and my father’s short story is the Il-Qtil fi Sqaq il-Ħorr of the book’s title. There are other excellent short stories in the collection and I think that the book was, and still is, a great read.

My father’s long short story is about a murder in Ħorr Alley. “Ħorr” means “honest”, so it would be ‘Murder in Honest Man’s Alley’. An intelligent and diligent police officer is investigating the case but when he is about to identify the murderer, pressure from above makes him stop in his tracks. The file is archived, leaving the officer fuming in frustration.

I think my father wrote this long short story in 1979; it was his entry in a literary competition that was scrapped when the results were never made public. The long short story lay in abeyance for 10 years, until it was published in 1989 by the Labour Party’s publishing house, SKS.


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