The Malta Independent 12 December 2018, Wednesday

Man cleared of defiling girl, 8, while playing at seaside

Monday, 24 September 2018, 15:02 Last update: about 4 months ago

A 40-year-old man has been cleared of defiling an 8-year-old girl while they were playing together at the seaside, the court saying that it believed any inappropriate contact to have been accidental.

The case dates back to July last year, when the man had been arrested and charged with corrupting a minor and participating in sexual activity with her.

The man, who is an uncle of a friend of the 8-year-old, had been accused of committing the abuse in Pretty Bay, Birzebbugia where the girl had gone to swim with the nuns from the orphanage where she had previously lived.

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The police were called after the child had told her mother that while she and another girl had been playing with the accused in the shallow water, he had touched her genital area from underneath her swimsuit. The girl told the police that he had also pressed her against his private parts. 4 episodes of abuse took place in total, said the girl.

The accused had told officers that he had been playing with the two children by throwing them into the air and catching them and that he had accidentally touched her whilst throwing her. He had soon tired and later went to eat, with the child joining him and other people at table.

But magistrate Audrey Demicoli, presiding the Court of Magistrates, observed that the prosecution had based its case exclusively on the child’s account of what happened. The alleged abuses had taken place in waist-high water, with 20 other children and helpers nearby. After watching the video of the girl’s testimony several times, the court said it began to suspect that the touching was entirely accidental during horseplay.

First of all, the court said, because none of the other swimmers who had been in close proximity had noticed anything untoward and secondly because the alleged touching had taken place very close to the sandy beach where people were watching. “The Court finds it difficult to understand how someone who wants to do certain things would do them so flagrantly, where a considerable number of people can see.”

It also was unable to understand the reason given by the child for not informing the nuns or helpers at the time. It emerged from the evidence, that some days prior to the incident, the girl’s mother had warned her about such incidents and had told her to only tell her if they happened. “In the opinion of the Court it is very plausible that the minor still had her mother’s words in her head and had interpreted the accidental touching by the accused as he was lifting her and his niece to throw them into the sea as something else.”

In the light of such doubts, the court said it could not find guilt, clearing the man.

Inspector Joseph Busuttil prosecuted. Lawyer Joe Giglio was defence counsel.

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