Last updated 2.40pm

Under-fire prisons director Alex Dalli suspended himself with immediate effect on Wednesday after a prisoner died by suicide in the latest of a series of such cases.

The Ministry of Home Affairs said that Dalli stepped aside after a meeting with Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri. 

In the afternoon, the ministry said that Robert Brincau will be acting chief executive.

The suicide victim is believed to be Arun Jose, an Indian national working in Malta who in March was remanded in custody after allegedly making unsolicited sexual advances towards a female patient. 

He was found dead in his cell at 6.30am.

"Initial investigations indicate that the cause of death was suicide as a note by the victim was found," the prison authorities said in a statement. 

Magistrate Nadine Lia is holding an inquiry.

The prisoner's death immediately led to calls from NGOs for the resignation of Byron Camilleri and Alex Dalli.

Broadcaster Peppi Azzopardi broke the news of the suspected suicide early on Wednesday on Facebook. 

Earlier this year Azzopardi tore into the prison authorities after a 29-year-old Kim Borg Nicolas Virtu died by suicide at Corradino Correctional Facility. 

The latest prisoner death is the 14th under Alex Dalli.  

Dalli has been CEO of the Correctional Services Agency for three years, and while he has been praised for weeding out drugs from Corradino, he has been constantly under fire for his unorthodox methods of discipline.

Announcing Brincau's appointment, the Home Affairs Ministry said Brincau has been managing the detention services implementing a number of important changes, particularly relating to welfare and security.

He served in the Red Cross for a number of years and led a number of humanitarian operations including overseas.  

Calls for resignation

Activist groups Repubblika, Moviment Graffitti and Aditus had all reacted to the news of the latest prison death by calling for Dalli to go.

Repubblika said that while the circumstances of the tragedy were not yet known, and not all suicides could be prevented, the current death rate at Malta's prison would be unacceptable in any democracy.

It said the retention of Dalli as director of prisons was 'a danger to the life of people entrusted in his care'. 

The political defence of Dalli was no longer tenable, the group said, and Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri must assume responsibility for his obstinacy, which was costing lives. He, therefore, must resign.  

Moviment Graffitti insisted that Dalli must resign or be removed.

"Were this the first incident, it would require an investigation. However, this being the 14th death in just over two years, it requires nothing less than the immediate dismissal of prisons director Alex Dalli and the assumption of political responsibility by Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri, who has steadfastly stood by the despotic Dalli despite the alarming rate at which inmates are leaving prison walls in body bags," the lobby group said. 

"What should be a correctional facility is now a place of death and terror," it added. 

Aditus said that Dalli should be "removed immediately".

"No waiting for the conclusions of yet another inquiry, no suspension pending investigation and no resignation," it said. 

Meanwhile, in its statement, the Home Affairs Ministry said a magisterial inquiry started some weeks ago into the running of the prisons, is continuing and it should serve as a basis for holistic reforms at the prison.  

Byron Camilleri leave now: PN

The PN also called for the resignation of Camilleri after failing to take responsibility and suspending Dalli himself.

“A few moments ago, Dalli suspended himself, when it should have been our [Home Affairs] Minister who took on the responsibility to suspend him,” shadow minister Beppe Fenech Adami said.

“Camilleri did not have the courage to do what he should have done ages ago,” he added.

Fenech Adami said that instead of shouldering the responsibility for 14 deaths in prison, he continued to defend a "failing prison system".

“If Camilleri cannot understand the gravity of the situation, the anger of the relatives and uncertainty created among prison officials, he cannot be a minister. Leave now,” he demanded, calling on Prime Minister Robert Abela to make him resign.

“I am angry because this morning's death could have been avoided. We have a government that avoids responsibility while the culture of impunity continues to grow.”

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