An appeal court has condemned two contractors and an architect to pay more than €67,000 in compensation between them to the family of a woman who died in a Sliema house collapse 20 years ago, finally bringing the lengthy court case to an end.

The woman's son, Paul Vella, expressed satisfaction that the family has closure following the decision of the court.

The court confirmed a previous decision by the First Hall of the Civil Court, ending a 20-year court case over the incident that caused Rita Vella's untimely death.

The court condemned contractors Carmel Raymond Micallef and Raymond Calleja to pay her heirs €56,800 between them while architect Philip Azzopardi, who had been cleared of the charge negligence by the criminal court, was ordered to pay €10,800 by way of compensation.

The incident occurred in Cathedral Street, Sliema, on April 12, 2000. Vella, 84, died hours after the incident, caused by excavation works behind the building.

Two men were lucky to escape without serious injury, including Joseph Vella, the victim's son, who told the court that on the day of the incident that cracks had opened up in the building.

A relieved Paul Vella told Times of Malta: “My advice to people is to just get out of there if they see cracks because that is the first sign of trouble. Look at the trouble we had to go through. This decision today is finally giving us some closure after 20 years. Nothing is going to bring back our mum but for us, this means the end of stretched court proceedings.”

He recalled how his mother's was similar to the recent house collapse in Hamrun which claimed the life of Miriam Pace.  

On the court action itself, Vella said: “It took over my life”, especially after he and his sister took over the case when his other siblings emigrated to Australia and Italy. 

“It’s been tiring but finally we’re done. The compensation we were given is a pittance because that’s not the price of a life, plus 20 years of court proceedings, but at least we’re done now,” Vella said. “Twenty years is something I can never accept,” he added. 

Rita Vella with her sonsRita Vella with her sons

It took 12 years for the criminal court to deliver its judgment.   

It had fined the contractors €4,000 each after they were both convicted of gross negligence for failing to keep the proper distance between their excavation works and Vella’s house. 

The architect was acquitted since he had not even been informed that the excavation works had started.

Vella spoke to Times of Malta recently about the pain his family had to go through. 

“The judgment will not heal the pain we felt that day and still feel with every passing day but this is closure and for that we feel relieved in a way but angered by the ridiculous amount of time we, the victims, have had to wait for our court to hand down this long-drawn-out judgment.

“It’s been a long 20 years during which we faced a lot of heartache, lack of respect from the contractors, the workmen, the architect, the courts, the magistrate presiding over the case…all played their part in delaying justice. Shame on you all,” an angry Vella wrote in a post on Facebook. 

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