This column first appeared in Malta Today
Please note this was written with the family’s approval and photo is being published with their permission
When one works in journalism it is always with a sense of trepidation that one day there will be a story which will hit too close to home.
It is also sad, but true, that we have had such a rise in violent crime that we have become almost desensitised when hearing/reading the news (“did you hear there was another one?” we say to each other). While we feel sorry for the victims, it is almost with a sense of detachment and disconnect. We might leave a few indignant comments on FB but then we keep scrolling and go on with our routine. We tend to forget that behind each and every story there are real, devastated families whose lives have come crashing down and will be forever changed.
Until one day, the news item is about someone you know very well.
Last week it was with a jolt that I discovered, to my shock, that the violent robbery which has left a man fighting for his life, involved a good friend of ours, from within the close-knit tennis community. The words on the page now took on a different meaning, the man who was being described a an “anzjan”” because he is 67, is actually a vibrant, fun-loving, very active man who plays tennis regularly and still ran his jewellery shop.
Correction…he used to be active and vibrant. But in the early evening of Friday 25 August, just before he closed shop, robbers burst in, tied him up, robbed him of everything and if that was not enough, they beat him mercilessly, leaving him for dead.
Joe Carabott is now in the ITU, certified to be in danger of dying. His family does not know if he will survive. If he does make it, they do not know what type of quality of life he will have. To say that everyone who knows him is still walking around, shell-shocked in disbelief, by what has happened to “one of our own”, is a huge understatement. The family is traumatised, distraught and above all, very angry.
To the credit of the Police, the culprits, a Maltese woman and two men of foreign nationality, were caught and arraigned immediately. They have been charged with attempted murder, grievous bodily harm, holding the victim against his will, aggravated theft, carrying a knife while committing the crime and wilful damage to third party property. Assisted by legal aid lawyers there was no request for bail and are being held under arrest, much to the relief of the general public which was already convinced that they would be granted bail, as has happened before. The court also issued a protection order in favour of the victim.
According to reports, the jewellery and money which were stolen have also been retrieved. But, of course, no amount of money can compensate for what they did to a loving husband, father and grandfather. The words on everyone’s lips is: why couldn’t they have just stolen what they wanted and left? Why did they have to beat him to a pulp?
The tragedy is that what happened to Joe on that ill-fated evening is being repeated all too often. Many times, the perpetrators would be repeat offenders, as in this case, where the female accomplice has a police record of several previous cases where older victims were tied up, violently assaulted and robbed. She has already served time for one such case.
In 2015, she was sentenced to two and half years for stealing thousands of Euro in jewellery and cash after breaking into the home of a 92-year-old woman (accompanied by two other people). In 2019, again with two other people, she allegedly attacked and tried to rob a 79-year-old man in a wheelchair.
Enough empty rhetoric – what are you going to do to make Malta safe again?
When the three people who assaulted Joe Carabott were arrested, the Minister of Home Affairs, Security, Reforms and Equality Byron Camilleri said, “I am satisfied that the Police have quickly arrested the people in connection with this ugly case. Society and the state will not tolerate this type of behaviour, no matter where it comes from or who does it. We are sending a message that whoever thinks they can carry out this type of crime will be caught and will have to face the consequences.”
It is all well and good to utter these nice-sounding words but they are hardly going to ally the fears of the general public, nor are they of any solace to all the families who have been victims of violence. What is the state actually doing, in real terms, to make Malta safe again? When people read that a hardened criminal “known to the police” is not only back on the streets but has immediately gone back to her old ways, they have one reaction – how is this allowed to happen?
With the current spike in crime being committed by foreign nationals, the nation is justifiably alarmed that not only has the country become over-populated, but there is the very real danger that it is importing criminals who seem to be slipping into the country without any background checks whatsoever. This is what needs to be addressed, head on, through an interview or a press conference where the Minister faces the nation and gives concrete, no nonsense answers. The country needs a real plan of action when it comes to national security which is implemented and does not merely remain on paper or on some shelf, gathering dust.
Everywhere you go the most frequent comment is that “I no longer feel safe” and that is a real concern which cannot just be smoothed over by some empty rhetoric. The men who were involved in the Zurrieq hold-up worked as manual labourers, one installing shutters and the other installing water and electricity – how do we know that the people being employed in Malta (who are often sub-contracted) and who we often let into our home to carry out works, trusting them blindly, are not, in fact, criminals?
The other issue which needs to be tackled is the very real connection between drugs, poverty and crime. When you have people who are desperate either because they are addicts and/or because they cannot make ends meet, you will find rising crime rates. Malta is no different, and the pockets of poverty in various areas of the island are well-known. Again, it is not enough for the authorities to come out with a statement patting themselves on the back when criminals are caught, but we need to be told what is being done to prevent more crime in the first place.
The justice system also needs to reflect the gravity of the crime when it come to sentencing – if you read the comments whenever there is a violent episode, the cynical reaction is always the same, “they will be given a slap on the wrist”, “they will be out on bail’, “they will flee the country”. Can you blame the public for their scepticism when it has proved to be justified time and time again?
Violent armed hold-ups, robberies and burglaries cannot remain just statistics and the victims especially cannot remain mere headlines in the news, only to be forgotten when something else happens. The trauma which victims’ families go through when a loved one is viciously attacked will remain with them, probably for life. They deserve to know that justice will be served. They deserve to know that the same criminals will not do this again to someone else.
And we all deserve to live in a safer Malta.