The Malta Independent 6 August 2020, Thursday

Daphne murder public inquiry - Photos taken of us in restaurants ended up on Bedingfield blog

Tuesday, 10 December 2019, 14:03 Last update: about 9 months ago

The public inquiry into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia held its first sitting in court last week, and is set to continue today.

Judge Michael Mallia is the chairman of the inquiry board.

Chief Justice Emeritus Joseph Said Pullicino and Madam Justice Abigail Lofaro are the two other members.

Last week, Peter Caruana Galizia, Daphne’s husband, and their son Matthew testified.

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Her father Michael and mother Rose Marie are testifying along with other family members, including her sisters. The testinomy of a journalist was heard behind closed doors.

4.44pm: The session is over. It will resume on 27 December at 9am when Daphne's sons Andrew and Paul will testify, together with her other sister Corinna Vella.

4.41pm: Mandy Mallia spoke about one time when she was placing candles and photos at Daphne's memorial, when a man threw the photos and flowers away. A French TV crew was there and captured all on camera. Should someone calling for justice endure this? she asked No journalist should be killed for writing the truth. The best protection for journalists is for the police to investigate their stories and for the criminals to be prosecuted for their crimes.

4.38pm: Mandy Mallia testified people said "boom" while passing by family members since the assassination, in reference to the car-bomb. She spoke about disparaging comments on Facebook, including images of a dog running away with a legbone, underneath stories about her murdered sister, which were allowed by some news portals.

4.35pm: On May 30 2017, Silvio Schembri uploaded a political video on his page, and dedicated it to Matthew Caruana Galizia, and that people were going to vote to get rid of people like him and his family. Daphne's assassination had already been contracted while this was being said, but put on hold till the election passed, Mandy Mallia said. She said that institutions were used in what seemed to be a concerted effort against Daphne. She recounted some stories regarding police harassment that were already mentioned in the past and the lack of prosecution on illegalities reported by her sister. Only her family knew how much she endured during her life.

4.31pm: Being out in public with Daphne after her face was plastered on PL campaign billboards in 2013, people began recognising her, and some tried to make it uncomfortable by either staring or taking photos, Mandy Mallia said. On May 1 2017, Silvio Schembri uploaded photos of the May Day mass meeting, with a caption reading on 3rd of june a whole coalition against Daphne Caruana Galizia. Muscat had said that Malta was being tarnished by Bidnija, a clear reference to the articles written by Daphne, a journalist, when writing was part of her job.

4.28pm: Mandy Mallia, Daphne's sister, said that some state-employed medical staff celebrated the death of her sister when they heard about the bomb. Prior to the murder, in early 2017, she said that at least one Parliamentary Question as filed whether anyone in Bidnija or if any journalist had protection. It was as though a politician was hinting for a criminal to do something to Daphne because she had no protection. Some time after Daphne was assassinated, Neville Gafa had uploaded on his Facebook page photos of Daphne. Most worrying were photos of Daphne and her hudsband in Floriana just days before her murder. She also made reference to the photos published on social media by Gafa which showed Daphne and Daphne's then minor niece.

4.25pm: Mandy Mallia spoke about Glenn Bedingfield's blog launch, and how it took over from the previous website. Glenn Bedingifeld wass almost completely directed to vilify and discredit Daphne, many a time updating the website during office hours. He often tweeted about the blog posts too, using disparaging remarks like the Bidnija blogger. She was not a politician nor on any party's payroll, she said. On the eve of the 2013 election, Mallia said that Daphne was arrested for writing on the day of silence, despite politicians writing online as well.

4.22pm: Mandy Mallia said that as more people accessed the internet, the number of abusive comments about her sister escalated. She said that after Daphne launched her blog, an entire website called Taste your own Medicine was launched and was dedicated to vilifying Daphne and her family. "When I was in Taormina on holiday, my father and I took my daughters there, but someone wrote on that website that my father had a second family in Sicily," Mallia said. She said that she was targeted by comments in order to get at Daphne through her and her family. She spoke about terms used to describe Daphne to ridicule her, like is-Sahhara tal-Bidnija (the witch of Bidnija).

4.20pm: Mandy Mallia said she knew Daphne was treading dangerous ground with her work, but Daphne knew it was her duty. "I had told Daphne it wasn't worth the risk to keep writing", with public opinion against her. Daphne's repsonse was that someone needs to do it and that there was so much that needed to be written. "Despite any impression you may have, Daphne was a reserved person," Mallia said. She said that Daphne would not speak about what worried her, but "I felt she was in danger due to what she wrote, not least due to the arson attacks in the past. When Mallia heard about the bomb that killed hernsister, she said she was shocked but not surprised.

4.17pm: Amanda (Mandy) Mallia, one of Daphne's sisters, took the stand. She said that in an ideal world no journalist would need to be desrcibed as courageous, as criminals would be prosecuted. She said that if this had happened she has no doubt Daphne would be here today.

4.13pm: Helene Asciak spoke about articles her sister wroke about the Panama Papers. "Both men (Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi) set up their structures concurrently, using the services of Tonna's Nexia BT,"  she read. After Daphne's assassination The Times of Malta reported that Tonna's company was given a contract by government. Tonna was employed while facing an inquiry on alleged kickbacks, she said. "I have been shouted at and told that no amount of candles I light can bring her back," she said, while adding that she has been ridiculed by people who did not like Daphne. "Daphne could never be bought or ever be silenced, and so they killed her. I can never bring my sister back i know that, but what we can do is call for truth and justice," Helene Asciak said.

4.10pm: Daphne wrote that what Bedingfield did was a threat to democracy and that the sole purpose of what he wrote was to threaten the PM's critics, be they journalists or others, and that this had a chilling effect. Helene Ascial said Bedingfield was Joseph Muscat's communciations aid. Daphne wrote in 2017 that she had always been subjected to attacks from the PL, but since PL came to power, whe was subjected to serious harassment, Asciak said. "It was clearly systematic, and in some cases dovetailed for maximum distress. While I dealt with the fallout of my frozen acocunts, I began receiving police calls who wanted to interrogate me over my writings regarding John Dalli," Daphne had written, according to Asciak. She said it is the job of journalists to scrutinise politicians not vice versa, unless it's by totalitgarian regimes, she said.

4.07pm: Helene Asciak, Daphne's sister, took the stand. She said that Daphne exposed abuse and corruption in the highest levels of government. For years she was dehumanised and always rose above it. She soldiered on, Helene Asciak said. In 2010, an anonymous website called Taste your own Medicine was set up with the intention to stop Daphne from writing. Eventually a website by Glenn Bedingfield was created and the other was taken down.

4.05pm: Megan Mallia mentioned how Keith Schembri walked passed her in the airport lounge at one point, and felt that if it wasn't for him and his corruption, her aunt would still be alive. "Her assassination was a shock to me, but not a surprise either," she said. "Since Daphne's assassination, I like my family, have had no time to breathe," she said. People online "have told me to dig a hole near my aunt and lie in it. This is the climate that allowed for her to be murdered," she said.

4pm: One day in the summer of 2018 "I was protesting with my family. My grandfather was trying to place a photo of my aunt, and my grandmother noticed a man taking photos. The man ran to us, snatched the flowers we placed, and wrestled with my grandfather and took the photo out of his hand, Megan Mallia said. She spoke of the man's passioned fury when he yelled at them. Photos of the family was then shared on a PL supporters group.

3.56pm: Megan Mallia, another of Daphne's nieces is now testifying. She spoke of a time when she (Megan) spent a few days in hospital and Daphne could not visit, and she remembers thinking it had to do with Daphne's presence causing issues, but does not remember the reason her mother gave her. She said that in 2016 they were walking a relative's dog when they were stopped by animal welfare officers asking if the dog was chipped. "We had no idea, and (we told the officers that) we were walking the dog for their relative" She said they feared giving Daphne's name, she said, adding that they only did after Daphne confifrmed with them that the dog was chipped.

3.55pm: In February 2018 Amy Mallia said she was at school and "a classmate told me that it would be better if a bomb was placed under my seat". Asked about the Neville Gafa photo she mentioend earlier, she said she was with Daphne in Valletta and later in the day Neville Gafa had uploaded photos of her with Daphne on his Facebook page.

3.53pm: Amy Mallia, Daphne Caruana Galizia's niece, spoke of her aunt having been vilified and attacked throughout her life, and continues to be attacked over two years after her murder. She said her aunt was a target of hate and threats, and continues to be so today.

3.50pm: On 18 February 2017 she was in Valletta with Daphne walking her dog, and she heard people whisper that she was Daphne's illegitimate daughter while doing so. She said that the evening before her assassination, Neville Gafa (employed by the government) uploaded photos of her aunt. She noted that Gafa had in the past uploaded photos of Daphne and her when she was just 14, a minor, and said that this was a cause of concern for her. She spoke of Chris Cardona and Joe Gerada's precautionary warrants, freezing Daphne's assets, and expressed how she was worried about her aunt, and how this move was an attempt to make her aunt give up.

3.48pm: Amy Mallia, Daphne's niece, said that growing up with an Aunt like Daphne means that she would constantly hear false rumours. She spoke about rumours spread about her family, like Michael Vella's secret family in Sicily. She described them as tactics to hurt Daphne and to stop her. In the 2013 elections, the PL used photoshopped photos of Daphne to make people pick on her looks, she said, adding that this made Daphne unable to leave the house due to her being recognised

3.30pm: Almost an hour has passed and the journalist is still testifying.

2.35pm: The media is asked to leave the courtroom as the unidentified journalist with fresh information is to testify behind closed doors.

2.34pm: Michael Vella said that the new PN's leader's policy was to not speak up about corruption, which left Daphne defenceless in the face of a hostile state. At this stage the efforts to silence Daphne became more real. State authorities failed to act upon Daphne's corruption reports, and failed to acknowledge the escalating level of threat against her and failed to take action to ensure her safety. He began crying when he mentioned the day his daughter was killed. Had the authorities done their job on time, she would be alive today, he said, as he struggled to speak

2.20pm: Level of threat increased after she published her Panama Papers findings involving government persons. Emails also published by Daphne showed exchanges between Henley and Parnters, PM Joseph Muscat and Owen Bonnici in which the latter two agreed to allow the initiation of SLAPP action by the former to silence Daphne, Michael Vella said. He mentioned the Ali Sadr case filed in the United States. With the PN left in disarray after the 2-17 election, that line of protection was neutralised, he said. He mentioned the suspension of the assassination plot till the election, and it being reactivated after the election concluded. When the election result was published, people blamed Daphne for the PN's loss, and some called for her elimination. He said that Adrian Delia had publicly denigrated Daphne in his campaign to become PN leader.

2.28pm: Successive Labour led government have always been characterised by the suppression of free speech, and the denial of people's right to know, Michael Vella said. Through the harassment of individuals or organisations the party thought of getting in the way. "All those methods were directed against my daughter at different times in a bid to stop her from holding the government under scrutiny. In that context, reaction to her writings, including the arson attacks on her home, had always been a constant source of worry to my wife and myself. My perception of the level of threat against Dpahne became more accute when PL came to power in 2013 and removed John Rizzo from Police Commissioner.

2.24pm: Michael Vella focused his statement on his perception on the escalation of levels of threat to his daughter leading up to the assassination. "My daughter had a strong sense of duty and a clear commitment to what is right. She would not have been able to live with herself had she not investigated and reported on instances of corruption in government she got to know about, he said.

2.22pm: Daphne's father Michael Vella took the stand.

2.20pm: Rose Marie Vella spoke about the time Daphne Caruana Galizia was being followed before her murder. One day in October 2017, "she visited us. On entering, she told me she would return with my birthday present on (the following) Monday or Tuesday. As the evening went on, she seemed unusually apprehensive." She said that she had concern for her daughter, that she would be attacked. Visibly emotional, Rosemarie Vella said that this was the last time she had seen her. A few hours later, she had been brutally assassinated by a car bomb. Had her reports on corruption been immediately acted upon, she would still be alive today, Rosemarie Vella said.

2.18pm: Rose Marie Vella spoke about a number of incidents in which false reports had been filed against Daphne, and a 'constant stream of abuse' aginst her on certain websites. She said that they were having dinner in a restaurant one day, and the next day a website published photos and mocked what Daphne had been wearing. She noted how people would take photos of Daphne and they were then posted on Glenn Bedingfield's website. "The constant worry and tensions was a concern for me and caused me health problems. When I had a stroke the doctor told me he was sure it was related to my worry about Daphne." She said that a warden had at one day turned up at her house and asked if Daphne lived there, and she said no. He then said 'but you are her mother...'

2.16pm: She spoke about the concern she had about her daughter's safety. She said that in the previous legislature, a former PL MP, Luciano Busuttil, asked in Parliament if there had been a person in Bidnija who was under police protection, and Daphne had told her that this was to show that she had no protection

2.15pm: Daphne Caruana Galizia's mother, Rose Marie Vella, took the stand

2.10pm: The Board upheld the request, ordering that this person's testimony be made behind closed doors, and that the name is not be published and that the person not be identified. It is not known if the testimony will be heard today.

2.08pm: Board deliberating on the request.

2.04pm: Therese Comodini Cachia, for the Caruana Galizia family, said that someone from the media approached the family with information that can give direction to the inquiry, and asked if this person can testify instead, but if the board agrees will be behind closed doors to protect the person, and keep the person's sources private. She said that she is informed that this media person approached her after seeing the latest developments unfold. The information is not in the public domain, she said, which is why she is requesting that it be heard behind closed doors for now

2.03pm: Board ordered that the TAP3 files from the case involving Economy Minister Chris Cardona be preserved and to be in the custody of the board, after a request for such was made by lawyer Therese Comodini Cachia in the last sitting.

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