The Malta Independent 8 March 2021, Monday

Call for a public inquiry to establish the State’s responsibility

Andrew Azzopardi Wednesday, 20 January 2021, 07:20 Last update: about 3 months ago

I am calling for a public inquiry to establish the State’s reasonability, if any, of what seems to be a lack of decisive action regarding Liam Debono, who is accused of permanently injuring PC Simon Schembri in 2018. 

I am recommending that a public inquiry is established to analyse whether the attempted murder and/or serious injury incurred by PC Schembri allegedly by Liam Debono, a minor at the time, and who was obviously driving without a license, was preventable.  

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I am interested in knowing, as a result of this inquiry whether, if at all, the State was responsible for the complete collapse of the life of Liam Debono. 

I am recommending that this inquiry is designed with the intention of providing an independent investigation and will be submitted to the Prime Minister and the AG. I am recommending that Parliament supports this request to ensure justice is done with the victim, PC Schembri and the alleged perpetrator, Liam Debono. 

I recommend that the jury against Liam Debono will be postponed until this inquiry is concluded and passed on to the relevant authorities.

The inquiry needs to establish what may have triggered Debono during that abominable accident in May 2018 in Luqa and the surrounding area and what could have been done by the State to avoid PC Schembri from being left with serious and permanent injuries that have affected his life and the life of his dependents and family. 

In this inquiry we need to establish the following:

1.       What could the government have done with such ample resources dedicated to the social sector, that reach the astronomical expenditure of around €2 billion a year - to identify Debono as potentially having traits to injure people in a permeant way? 

2.       Is it true that there seems to have been evidence that psychiatrists have certified Liam Debono (way before the date of the accident) as having serious behavioural problems of a permanent nature?

3.       How come a school counsellor who knew Debono very well and who spoke to me in confidence (in my role as journalist) told me that; ‘it was clear that this boy was already suffering after being abandoned by everyone and he was showing evidence of deviant behaviour at the time’? What responsibility does she carry that Liam Debono went through the system and was not catered for and supported at the time when such behaviour was already being noted?  Has enough been done with him to address this behaviour during his compulsory schooling?  Was he referred accordingly by the school authorities as per established protocols?  Did the educators do everything in their power to help him and address what was allegedly being already identified as deviant behaviour?

4.       The voluntary services are an important pillar in our society, as are the informal and non-formal services that have the role of serving as a beacon of support to families and individuals. Hence the question beckons; where were they for the family of Liam Debono especially when he was still so young? Is it true they lost all hope of him and let him lose? Is it true they were not present enough, or at all, when he was still young? Is it true that no space was made available for him to engage in these groups and organizations? Is it true that this problematic behaviour which was already evident to most was not identified and addressed by these groups? 

5.       Why did the government social care agencies fail, if it is the case, in providing a shoulder for the family of Liam Debono? Apart from providing the necessary and basic care in the process of the drug abuse detoxification of the mother of Liam Debono (by providing methadone), how were the services supporting, if any, the rest of the family of Liam Debono? Did the agencies responsible for Liam Debono’s mother address, try to address or attempt to reach out to the family which was obviously at risk? Were the necessary risk assessments done? 

6.       Was the alleged problematic behaviour of Liam Debono addressed at any stage in his adolescence? Were the psychological problems manifested by this youngster, a minor at the time, assessed and subsequently addressed by the competent authorities, a behaviour that led to an alleged incident that injured a PC permanently and might land the former in prison?

7.       With so much knowledge and competencies dedicated to children and families, services known for their capability, is it true that Debono’s family went through the social net notwithstanding, and the family went off the radar and their needs forgotten and hardly addressed? Were they being given any guidance as to why they were left to their own devices?  Were they being guided or abandoned by social services? Were they on the poverty line? Did this family flash a red light within the system of care?

8.       Is it true that Liam Debono and his family were deprived of one of the basic fundamental human rights, that of having a home to live? Could it be that Liam Debono would have benefitted from social contacts, fostering, adoption or possibly living in a residential home for children? Should the mother have been stripped from her rights to care for Liam Debono due to her own problematic history? Could intense care services have given a completely different direction to the raising of Liam Debono and his siblings?  Were these options even considered and contemplated by the experts? Have Liam Debono and his siblings been protected well enough by the State?

9.       Given the fact that the State, following such broad consultation (that started in 2016), came up with a strategy for the prevention of crime, written and weaved by a high level academic and supported by politicians and policy makers, were the measures listed in this strategy implemented and would they have avoided this tragedy? if no, what is the scope of such a strategy?  

10.   Was our juvenile judicial system and police force, when faced with a minor at the time, aware of what was going on in his life and the dangers that were piling up because of the way he was being brought up, neglected by the community, abandoned by school and the formal structures? Were the police and the judicial system aware that Liam Debono could have been a liability to himself and his community? Was there enough evidence to suggest that?

11.   Is it true that people warmed up to PC Schembri (which was understandable) but as a consequence, the public outcry led to the ‘lynching’ on social media of Liam Debono, reminiscent of the proverbial ‘moral panic’? 

12.   Should media reports be scrutinized so that we separate fact from fiction, stories that could have been created in our mind and in the mind of the journalists versus the truth? Is this shortcoming being placed on the witnesses table? Should the sympathy towards PC Simon Schembri, shown by the media, have impacted unreasonably against Liam Debono? Was Liam Debono given equal exposure to state his case? Does this constitute an unfair trial?

13.   Should the Police Force and Identity Malta have taken more direct and coercive action knowing well enough that Liam Debono was already caught driving without a license? Could it be that had decisive action been taken, we might not be speaking about this tragedy? 

14.   Should our Judiciary have been more efficient and insightful when seeing this tragedy unfold in front of their eyes in the form of the ‘Debono Family’?  Could they have taken definite action to stop this young man from allegedly creating the havoc in PC Schembri’s life?  Did he slip through the net of the Juvenile Court?

I am recommending that:

-          the inquiry will not have a defined timeframe but be allowed to take its course of action;

-          the inquiry will be accessible to the general public;

-          that inquiry’s board will have full access to all resources, documentation, witnesses and other information that will shed light on how this whole situation could or may have been circumvented;

-          the inquiry’s board will have access to an array of professionals; criminologists; youth experts, psychologists.; psychiatrists; family therapists and other experts as necessary.

This is an inquiry of national interest.  It will shed light on whether our systems were really functioning adequately or not. 

The outcomes need to be made available to the general public. 

The life of Liam Debono, this young man, hangs by a thread.  He was seemingly derailed from the word ‘go’ and life did not deal him a fair hand. The writing was on the wall and we could have avoided that his life takes a downhill spiral. Instead of providing comfort and support we let the situation ‘take its course’ landing a police officer to the brink of death and who is now severely disabled.  The truth must be found out before the trial of this young man takes place. Understandably, the jury will most certainly sympathize with the Police Officers’ plight but fail to see what led this young man to this alleged act with atrocious consequences.  

The State is obliged and should have the decency to reflect on its lack of action and whether this inaction led to the disfigurement of the police officer. 

The Police Force and PC Schembri are owed an explanation and potential compensation. The State, as a magistrate had pointed out and was reported to have said in the public domain, is responsible to protect its Police Officers – this inquiry should reveal shortcomings, if any.

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