Justice Minister gave orders to have Daphne Caruana Galizia memorial cleared, court told

The court has heard how the instructions to the Cleansing Department's head to clear the makeshift memorial to murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia came directly from Justice Minister Owen Bonnici over the phone

The witness confirmed that the instruction had been given orally by Minister Owen Bonnici over the phone
The witness confirmed that the instruction had been given orally by Minister Owen Bonnici over the phone

The instruction to dismantle the makeshift memorial to murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was given by Justice Minister Owen Bonnici over the phone to the director general of the Cleansing Department.

This was said in court by Ramon Deguara, the director general, while testifying in the constitutional case filed by activist Manuel Delia against Bonnici and Deguara. The case is being heard by Judge Joseph Zammit McKeon and concerns the removal of banners, flowers and candles from the foot of the Great Siege monument in Valletta, which has become a rallying place since Caruana Galizia's murder.

A number of other persons also testified today, including Parliamentary Secretary Deo Debattista, who is also responsible for Valletta 2018.

Taking the witness stand, Debattista said the cleaning of national monuments did not normally fall under his remit but was ordered to use his department by Bonnici.

He was informed verbally about the decision. “The decision [to remove the items] was taken when the decision was taken to restore the monument.”

The judge asked if his remit as parliamentary secretary included national monuments, and whether the minister would inform him of decisions to clean areas. “Not necessarily,” Debattista said.

The cleaning was to take place between 10pm and 3am Cleansing Dept head Ramon Deguara

“I knew that restoration was going to take place, so I assume the instruction was given before the hoarding was raised,” he added.

After the hoarding was raised the department had cleaned the monument several times, he noted. Debattista said he had never given instructions personally.

Inspector Priscilla Caruana Lee on behalf of the Commissioner of Police presented the court with eight reports about the removal of items from the monument during the period March to October.

She said the reports were filed by Nationalist MP Karol Aquilina, blogger and activist Manuel Delia, Robert Aquilina, and other times by police patrols.

The police would not be informed that the items were going to be removed, added the inspector.

She was unable to confirm whether the police had been in contact with the Justice Minister about the issue.

The director general of the Cleansing Department, Ramon Deguara  took the stand next.

Deguara said he was unanswerable to the minister and the parliamentary secretary for V18. “Cleaning of monuments is done regularly. Flowers are removed after a period of time. The cleaning of the central Valletta area is the responsibility of the department,” Deguara said, adding that the decision to clean the monument was taken together with the decision to restore it.

Activist and blogger Manuel Delia filed the constitutional case after flowers, candles and banners in remembrance of Daphne Caruana Galizia were removed on numerous occasions
Activist and blogger Manuel Delia filed the constitutional case after flowers, candles and banners in remembrance of Daphne Caruana Galizia were removed on numerous occasions

Workers initially instructed not to touch anything

In the more distant past, workers were under his instructions not to touch anything, he said. The instruction to change this was received from the justice minister, in connection with the restoration, Deguara said.

“We have workers cleaning Valletta every night, including the monument. The instructions were… after the decision to restore was taken, that we were to clean both inside and outside the hoarding.”

The instruction was given orally by the minister over the phone, the witness said. The cleaning was to take place between 10pm and 3am.

His workers had handed the items over to the police on a few occasions before they started depositing them in court.

Before September the police hadn’t spoken to them, Deguara said, adding that after that month they had called him, asking that he return the items as there was a report of theft.

All the items extraneous to that left by the ministry were removed, said the witness.

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