A 68-year-old man from Żurrieq with a criminal record “as thick as a book” was remanded in custody on Saturday after pleading not guilty to threatening a magistrate and a number of police officers earlier this week.

Joseph Zahra denied threatening the member of the judiciary, whose name cannot be published by court order. The case happened on Wednesday. He also denied stealing a mobile phone last December.

Police Inspector Kevin Pulis told Magistrate Demicoli that another incident took place on Friday, when Zahra appeared before Magistrate Monica Vella over a separate case.

Zahra was being rowdy in the courtroom, with the magistrate warning him to be quiet. He disobeyed these orders and the magistrate twice found him guilty of contempt of court, fining him a total of €2,000, which must be paid within a week.

The matter escalated and Zahra was thrown out of the courtroom where he continued being rowdy, swearing and threatening police officers.

Inspector Pulis said Zahra was “a danger to society” and clearly ignored any order given to him by the police or any other person of authority. The two incidents over which he was being charged happened inside the law courts.

He said Zahra had a 47-page criminal record, with crimes all the way from 1963 before every possible member of the judiciary imaginable.

“He appeared before them all but he still does whatever he pleases. He should be signing two bail books over separate cases but he only signs one of them. This is how disrespectful he is towards the court,” the inspector said.

A case of mistaken identity?

The man’s lawyer, Leslie Cuschieri, said the police had the wrong criminal record because they joined his client’s with that of his deceased father, also called Joseph.

“You’re saying the first case was in 1963 when my client was 10 years old. The police know about this administrative mistake, but no one fixes it,” he said.

Cuschieri said Friday’s incident escalated only because the police insisted on putting on handcuffs when they clearly know that he needed to use his crutches to walk.

“This is why it got out of hand, because he was telling the police he would fall over if they put him in handcuffs,” he said.

The lawyer said his client was outspoken and found it difficult to control himself. He said he was already found in contempt of court over Friday’s incident so he was being charged twice over the same crime, which was illegal and in breach of his human rights. As regards Wednesday’s incident, he was also found in contempt of court and fined €400.

Cuschieri requested bail for his client, telling the magistrate that he had a number of animals on his farm in Birżebbuġa that he needed to feed.

Magistrate Demicoli refused the request since he did not offer the necessary guarantees. She, however, drew the attention of the prison authorities to ensure that the accused is regularly taken to feed his animals. 

Police Inspectors Gabriel Micallef and Kurt Farrugia also prosecuted.  

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