A court decision stating that the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) were 80% to blame for the death of young gunner Matthew Psaila back in February 2009 has delivered “some justice” in the case.
Psaila, 19 at the time, had died in a “team-building” exercise in which he was ordered to enter the freezing cold water at Chadwick Lakes in the early hours of the morning.
Psaila was pulled out of the water unconscious after having spent some 10 minutes submerged and a further 20 minutes without a pulse in an ambulance.
He was determined to have died as a result of hypothermia, despite the fact that he was alleged not to have known how to swim.
In a Judgment handed down this morning, the First Hall of the Civil Courts found that failures on the part of the AFM had “exceeded by far” those of the victim.
“While no amount of money can ever bring back what we lost, the decision by the Court that the army were to blame for 80% of the accident is at least some justice done to the memory of a brave, dedicated young man, whose life was cut short well before its prime,” Psaila’s uncle Martin Bugelli said on Facebook of the decision.
The case was the subject of three separate inquiries. An internal inquiry carried out by the Armed Forces of Malta, a magisterial inquiry as well as a third inquiry appointed by the Office of the Prime Minister.
The latter inquiry had, despite finding serious failures in the army’s training, put the soldier’s death down to “misadventure”.
“In the meantime, lest we forget, the Prime Minister, under whose political responsibility the army was back in 2009, had appointed Mr Justice Victor Caruana Colombo as chairman, former AFM commander Brigadier John Spiteri, and former director of the Civil Aviation Department Joseph Sultana to an ‘independent’ board of inquiry,” Bugelli wrote in a subsequent post.
“The ‘independent board had decided that nobody was to blame, that it was misadventure, and had sought to deviate the focus of responsibility by recommending swimming lessons at the Malta National Pool in heated water, under supervision and wearing only swimming gear, in preparation for an exercise (subsequently discontinued and never repeated), where the young men and women had been ordered to wade in and out of waist-high water that was at 5 degrees Celsius, wearing full uniform including boots, carrying over 12 kilos of webbing, and with an assault rifle in hand that they could never let go of.”
Bugelli insisted that the inquiry’s recommendations were a “spin exercise intended solely to attribute responsibility to the false allegation that Matthew could not swim”.
This, he said, was not the case, adding that he could personally vouch for the fact that Psaila could in fact swim, adding that the fact that the young soldiers had been ordered into waist-high water meant that whether or not he knew how to swim was not particularly relevant to the case.
Furthermore, Bugelli noted that Lieutenant Christian Vella, who was in charge of the exercise and Marvic Peregin, who was assisting Psaila’s group, had been absolved of wrongdoing by the magistrate’s court, using “language that was practically a copy and past of this Board’s scribbled report”.
“Today the Court has decided that ‘the Army’ was 80% to blame, almost as if ‘the Army’ is an entity totally separate and distinct from those individuals who make it up.”
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