The Malta Independent 17 December 2018, Monday

Support worker charged with sexually abusing young girls at open centre for minors

Tuesday, 20 November 2018, 15:00 Last update: about 27 days ago

A support worker at an open centre for unaccompanied minors seeking asylum has been charged with sexually abusing a number of young girls there.

Before magistrate Josette Demicoli this afternoon, 57 year-old Norman Bugeja of Luqa was formally charged with performing a non-consensual act of a sexual nature on four of the residents at the open centre. He was also accused of asking the girls, aged between 16 and 17, for sexual favours, offending public morals in a public place and committing a crime that he was duty bound to prevent.

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Police Inspector John Spiteri, prosecuting together with Inspectors Joseph Busuttil and Hubert Cini told the court that three days ago, residents at the centre had filed a police report claiming that the accused, on several occasions, had touched them inappropriately and offered money for sexual favours.

The accused is denying the charges.

His lawyers, Arthur Azzopardi and Alfred Abela, requested bail. The alleged victims were already in the care of the State and the accused had been suspended from work, pending an investigation, they argued.

Bugeja has a clean criminal record, argued the defence lawyers.

“The civilian witnesses are in the care and custody of the State, protected by the State. There is no risk of him making any approach to the witnesses. He would have been an ideal candidate for house arrest had this measure not been struck off the books,” argued Azzopardi.

But the prosecution pointed out that the victims were free to leave the institution for several hours a day. “There is a strong risk of tampering with evidence. They had endured a long time before coming forward. There are a lot of other witnesses. There is also a witness who used to reside at the home and whom the accused is in an intimate relationship with,” suggested Inspector Spiteri.

The prosecution argued against bail, primarily on the grounds of the risk of the accused tampering with evidence and the fact that the victims are minors and are yet to testify.

The court ruled that bail should be denied at this stage due to the fact that the victims were yet to testify and due to the nature of the crimes with which the accused is charged. However, it directed the prosecution to summon the victims to testify in the next sitting.

The court ordered a ban on the publication of the institution involved, but not of the name of the accused.

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