John Polidano and Silvio Pace, who had been sentenced for life in connection with an explosion that brought down a block of flats in Paola, killing a woman and her 19-month-old son in 1992, had their sentence reduced to 20 years on appeal yesterday.

The ruling will mean the two will be out in about two-and-a-half to three years.

The trial by jury, which ended in February 2002, had found the men guilty of causing the death of 24-year-old Yvette Bonnici and her son Sean, when the block of flats they lived in collapsed after an explosion.

The explosion, which rattled Paola's main square at about 3.35 a.m., demolished the block which included two apartments, one of them where the woman, her husband and their son were sleeping, the Malta Labour Party club, the Catholic Bookshop and the Oxford Photo Studio which belonged to Mr Polidano.

It had emerged in court that the explosion had been commissioned by Mr Polidano who wanted to destroy his own shop to get insurance money.

Mr Polidano who is 52 is from Zurrieq while Mr Pace who is from Paola is 39.

Another two men, Vincent Spiteri and Christopher Agius, had been charged with complicity in the case. The latter died of an overdose in 1997 and Mr Spiteri was sentenced to five years.

Jurors had found Mr Pace guilty by seven votes to two of having caused the explosion that killed Mrs Bonnici and her son. Mr Polidano had been found guilty by eight votes to one of complicity in the incident.

Five of the nine jurors, however, had called on the court to show clemency in the case of Mr Spiteri and were unanimous in a similar call with regard to Mr Polidano.

The presiding judge, Mr Justice Patrick Vella, had exercised his discretion in ignoring this call for clemency, giving all three men life imprisonment.

In passing judgment, the judge said he could not "but express his disgust at the whole incident" insisting that he was disregarding the juror's pleas for clemency.

"The tragic and needless death of two people had been caused purely by other people's greed and they merited a maximum punishment prescribed by law not out of revenge but with a sense of justice," Mr Justice Vella had said.

This decision, however, turned out to be pivotal in yesterday's ruling by the Court of Appeal.

While rejecting a number of technical points raised by the defence team representing both men, the judges presiding over the appeal, Mr Justice Gino Camilleri, Mr Justice Raymond Pace and Mr Justice David Scicluna, said that while the first court had been within its legal rights to refuse the jurors' call, given the circumstances of the case and the fact that there had not been a unanimous verdict the court should have exercised "temperament".

Lawyers Gianella Caruana Curran and Emmanuel Mallia represented Mr Polidano.

Lawyers Robert Montalto and José Herrera appeared for Mr Pace.

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