Updated 8.15pm

Bernice Cassar’s husband is the prime suspect in her murder, police commissioner Angelo Gafà confirmed on Tuesday evening. 

Cassar had filed five separate police reports against her husband this year alone, with the most recent one having been filed on Monday morning – the day before she was shot dead in Paola. 

Four of those reports concerned threats and one alleged physical violence. 

Killed with a shotgun

Bernice Cassar, 40, was shot dead as she was driving to work in Paola on Tuesday morning. Her body was found outside her white car. 

Forensic experts have concluded that the murderer fired three shots at her using a shotgun, hitting her with two. Those shots landed on her face and chest respectively.  

Police are treating the case as a femicide. 

The police commissioner was speaking at a crime conference held at police headquarters on Tuesday evening. 

He said investigators believe Cassar's husband killed her and then returned to his home in Qrendi. 

Gafà did not name the husband. Times of Malta can confirm that he is Roderick Cassar, 41 and from Qrendi. 

He remains locked up inside his Qrendi home, with police negotiators attempting to talk him into giving himself up. That police operation began at around 9.20am, roughly one hour after the murder victim's body was found. 

Suspect believed to be armed

The murder suspect is believed to be armed with the murder weapon, Gafà told the press. He has no firearms registered to his name.

Police commissioner Angelo Gafà addressing the press on Tuesday evening. Photo: Jonathan BorgPolice commissioner Angelo Gafà addressing the press on Tuesday evening. Photo: Jonathan Borg

Multiple police reports

Gafà said police were investigating reports that the murder victim filed on November 14 and November 20 and had pressed charges related to the previous three reports back in May. 

That criminal case was scheduled for November 2023, and in the meantime, the magistrate had issued a protection order in favour of the victim. 

The most recent report she filed concerned a breach of that protection order, Gafà said. 

Cassar was also receiving support from the Victim Support Agency. 

Earlier on Tuesday, Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri said he had ordered an inquiry to look into any potential system failings that could have been avoided in this case.  

No comment on murder scene claims

The police commissioner declined to confirm or deny claims published by TVM about the murder scene. 

TVM reported that the killer had beaten Cassar up before shooting her and had also threatened a bystander who tried to intervene and stop the beating, telling him “get out of here” as he held a gun in his hand.

Gafà said investigators were speaking to eyewitnesses but said it would be premature to divulge details at this stage.

The police commissioner also declined to provide details about the ongoing operation in Qrendi or the murder suspect’s demands to the police.

Nor would he comment on why her relatives have called out the police for not doing enough to prevent the killing. 

Gafá: 'This case gives me great pain'

Gafá expressed regret at the murder, saying the police have in recent years been working hard to significantly improve their response to domestic violence cases. 

After the domestic violence unit was set up in 2020, the police witnessed almost a 25% increase in such reports. 

2021 saw an increase of a further 6% and this year another increase of just under 1% in reports, he said.  The unit had registered 1,480 reports by the end of October this year.

“We’re not perfect, but the service we offer today is far more professional and empathic, and many domestic violence victims we assist every day can vouch for this,” Gafá said, adding that the unit registers an average of five reports daily, most of which are reports of psychological abuse. 

The domestic violence unit operates around the clock with 33 police officers, five of whom are police inspectors. 

Gafa said last year the police arraigned an average of one person every two days with domestic violence charges. 

By the end of October this year, police from the domestic violence unit opened 152 cases in court. 

More cases are scheduled to begin next year and more than 500 people are scheduled to be arraigned in 2024.

“Whatever I say today, no words can make Bernice Cassar’s family feel better, he said. “But the independent inquiry should reveal whether there were any shortcomings."

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