Four youths, who set fire to a pickup van parked outside a Mellieħa farmhouse and then fled the scene in a Mercedes belonging to the victim, were spared jail after pre-sentencing reports recommended community work, probation and psychological help. 

Joel Falzon, 27, his 25-year-old girlfriend Danica Cilia, her brother Sylvan Cilia, 23, together with their friend Paul Farrugia, 31, had made the headlines in January 2019 after leading the police on a high-speed car chase which ended in their arrest.

That night, the police received reports about a burning vehicle in Triq Selmun on the outskirts of Mellieħa and when officers approached the scene they caught sight of a black Mercedes taking off. 

The driver was finally blocked after a long car chase and the youth and the other three suspects were arrested.

Upon arraignment, the accused were all charged with setting fire to the van, while separate charges related to the theft of the Mercedes, theft of car number plates, wilful damage to third party property as well as dangerous driving. 

While admitting to some of the charges, the youths had pleaded not guilty to other charges and were granted bail upon arraignment.

Their lawyers had immediately pointed out that the two siblings and Danica’s boyfriend, needed psychological help to overcome “great difficulties” they were facing on account of the relationship between the van owner and Cilia’s mother. 

In fact as the case proceeded, evidence showed that the foursome had plotted to set the man’s van on fire as “pay back” for the way he was allegedly mistreating his partner’s children and the daughter’s boyfriend, Joel.

So that night, at around 10.50pm, they headed to the man’s farmhouse and while he and his partner were inside, the youths set fire to the van.

The distance of the van from the residence, the fact that the wind was blowing in the opposite direction as well as the fact that it had rained that evening, meant that it was rather unlikely for the flames to have spread to the building.

The wet conditions also made it difficult for the wooden frame on a nearby metal gate and chicken wire fencing, to catch fire.

Those factors led the court to find the accused guilty of a lesser charge of arson, namely that not involving danger of loss of life. 

The charge of conspiracy to commit a crime was sufficiently proven, as were other charges relating to theft, wilful damage to third party property and dangerous driving.

Before delivering judgment, the court, presided over by magistrate Gabriella Vella, examined reports drawn up by probation officers who assessed all four of the accused.

And upon the recommendations therein, the court condemned Falzon to 200 hours of community work, a three-month driving ban and ordered a previous suspended sentence to run afresh. 

Falzon and his girlfriend had since got married and had a child.

The young father had not been involved in any fresh trouble since, the court was told.

As for Danika, past traumas had greatly impacted her emotional state and psychological help was recommended to help her along.

The court thus placed her under a two-year probation and treatment order. 

Her brother, Sylvan was placed under a similar order for three years. 

Farrugia was ordered to carry out 100 hours of community service and was placed under a two-year treatment order to help him address his personal troubles. 

Finally, each of the accused was ordered to pay €1,977.50 by way of court expert expenses. 

Inspectors Arthur Mercieca and Godwin Scerri prosecuted. Lawyers Roberto Montalto, Joe Giglio and Roberta Bonello Felice were defence counsel. 

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