Updated 7.50pm

Robert Abela announced an inquiry into Jean-Paul Sofia’s death, attacked a magistrate for delaying her probe, and apologised for not showing solidarity with the youth's relatives, shortly before crowds gathered for a vigil called by the construction victim's mother. 

The Prime Minister said he was still convinced that the correct method to tackle the tragedy would have been by addressing any gaps through an administrative inquiry after the conclusion of a magisterial inquiry.

But, unfortunately, it was clear this was not possible as the magisterial inquiry into the accident was taking too long and there was no end in sight, Abela told journalists. 

"The government will no longer remain a hostage to the courts," Abela said, adding that the magistrate had not yet heard the testimony of Sofia's parents.

The press conference was called as the prime minister faces nationwide discontent over the way the Sofia case was tackled as well as anger at the rampant construction impacting the lives of many.

"Everyone who played a role in this tragedy must pay the price for his actions," Abela promised.

He went on to apologise for not showing solidarity with Sofia's mother, and relatives, primarily, he said, as a parent himself. 

The inquiry will be led by Judge Emeritus Joseph Zammit McKeon (current Ombudsman), assisted by Auditor General Charles Deguara and court expert Mario Cassar.

The three key principles of the inquiry will be:

  • Complete transparency throughout the inquiry;
  • Scrutiny of all the authorities involved in the allocation of public land;
  • An investigation of all health and safety rules on construction sites.

The U-turn by the prime minister comes just five days after 40 Labour MPs voted against a public inquiry, unleashing widespread anger.

Answering questions by Times of Malta, Abela said the parliamentary group unanimously decided to vote against the inquiry last week and nobody forced them to shoot down the opposition's call for the inquiry.

Abela convened a meeting of his parliamentary group on Monday, ahead of mounting public anger into the construction sector, especially after the Corradino building collapse which killed Sofia, aged 20, last December.

Questioned on the police's role into the collapse probe, Abela said there was nothing stopping the police from carrying out a parallel investigation with the magisterial inquiry. 

He said the established practice in the past was always to allow the magisterial inquiry to conclude before the police take action. Abela said the time had perhaps come for magistrates to start communicating to the public when their inquiries are expected to be concluded. 

The prime minister said he would have expected the inquiring magistrate to work “night and day” to conclude her work, given the sensitivity of the case. Instead, the magistrate had left Sofia’s family in limbo, and asked for an extension, Abela said.

Abela also met with Sofia's parents Isabelle Bonnici and John Sofia at Auberge de Castille on Monday afternoon. Just after the meeting, Bonnici still urged the public to show up for the vigil. 

"Tonight we meet in a feast of love... I send a hug in the name of my son and those who died. Together, in love, we always succeeded," she wrote on Facebook. 

In the last hours, Abela’s predecessor Joseph Muscat, former president Marie Louise Coleiro Preca and the Labour-leaning General Workers’ Union have all come out in favour of a public inquiry.

Sofia was killed in a December 2022 building collapse on land leased out by the government for a timber factory.


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