The Malta Independent 30 May 2020, Saturday

Hydraulic excavator used minutes before fatal Hamrun building collapse

Thursday, 21 May 2020, 13:30 Last update: about 8 days ago

A hydraulic excavator was being used to remove hard stone at a construction site in Hamrun minutes before an adjacent property collapsed, killing Miriam Pace, a court heard on Thursday.

It is alleged that the construction worker operating the new equipment, Nicholas Spiteri, told his colleague after the collapse not to say anything or “face big problems.”

This information emerged during the first hearing of the compilation of evidence against four men accused of her death through negligence and involuntarily damaging third-party property.

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Roderick Camilleri, 36, from Rabat, who was the project’s architect; Anthony Mangion, a 72-year-old architect from Gżira who served as the construction project’s site technical officer; 36-year-old excavation contractor Ludwig Dimech from Żebbuġ; and 42-year-old construction worker Nicholas Spiteri, from Mqabba were back in court on Thursday, having been granted bail after pleading not guilty at their arraignment last month.

Prosecuting Inspector Robert Vella was the first to take the witness stand, giving an account of the events leading up to the tragic collapse on March 2 and the lengthy investigations that followed.

All throughout that morning, Nicholas Spiteri had been working at the site alongside another worker, Albanian-national Erbios Hysa, clearing rubble to make way for excavation works, making use of an excavator with bucket.

Spiteri had been going back and forth, transporting the waste material away from the site.

However, shortly before the incident, just after 2pm, Spiteri had allegedly shifted his operations to another excavation machine, a new addition to which a hammer head had just been attached.

His work companion, Hysa, had subsequently recalled how Spiteri had been chipping away at the hard rocks beneath the adjoining showroom when, some two to five minutes later, the property gave way.

“Don't dare say anything because you'll face big problems,” Spiteri had allegedly warned Hysa, following the collapse.

Photos from the scene of the incident, exhibited by Inspector Vella during his testimony, showed that the hammer excavator had been moved to the other side, away from the collapsed building.

Forensic experts sifting the site in the hours and days that followed, had noted blue paint on the back side of the excavator which possibly matched the paintwork of one of the six vehicles garaged in the neighbouring showroom at the time of the incident.

There were also fragments of paint matching that on an interior corridor wall, pieces of membrane as well as glass fragments from the collapsed building, formerly the Pace family home.

Hysa had released a statement to the police and had been granted police bail.

Under cross-examination by defence lawyer Arthur Azzopardi, assisting the architect, Inspector Vella explained that according to the evidence gathered, the new hammer head had been affixed to the excavator that very same morning and was being tested on site when disaster struck.

However, no reason for that was forthcoming, Inspector Vella replied, upon further questioning by lawyer Joseph Giglio, appearing parte civile for the victim’s family who today were also present in court.

The court, presided over by magistrate Joseph Mifsud, upheld a request by the prosecution to have Spiteri’s mobile phone analyzed by an IT expert so that relevant data, namely communication exchanged in the hours both before and after the incident, may be extracted.

The compilation continues on Monday.

Inspectors Robert Vella and Matthew Galea are prosecuting.

Lawyers Arthur Azzopardi and Alfred Abela are counsel to the architects.

Lawyers Franco Debono and Marion Camilleri are counsel to Spiteri.

Lawyers Michael Sciriha, Roberto Montalto, Lucio Sciriha and Franco Galea are counsel to Dimech.

The Pace family were represented in court by lawyers Joe Giglio and David Bonello.

Lawyer Stefano Filletti is assisting other neighbours.

 

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