Some readers may find descriptions in the testimony below disturbing.
A Bidnija resident recalled the horror of seeing and hearing Daphne Caruana Galizia being blown up inside her car in October 2017 when he testified in court on Tuesday.
Francis Sant was driving home from Tarġa Gap at 3 pm on October 16 of that year when he noticed something was wrong with a car heading in his direction.
The person inside the car seemed to be panicking, he recalled.
“ I heard a small bang, like fireworks. Then I heard a piercing scream,” Sant told the court.
That was followed by an explosion, as the small white car came hurtling “in a ball of fire”, just metres away from his.
“I saw parts of her ripped off. Her hand flew off. It was terrible. Then I saw blood... I realised they were human parts. I could do nothing,” the soft-spoken witness recalled.
Sant was one of several witnesses summoned to testify on Tuesday as the case against murder suspect Yorgen Fenech continued. Fenech stands accused of complicity in Caruana Galizia’s murder, with a self-confessed middleman saying he was given money by the tycoon to pay hitmen to carry out the assassination.
Fenech is pleading not guilty to charges.
I saw parts of her ripped off. Her hand flew off. It was terrible.- Francis Sant
Prosecutors summoned a series of eyewitnesses who were among the first to reach the Bidnija crime scene that October afternoon.
Among them was Mario Vella, a Bidnija local who ended up getting into a scuffle with one of Caruana Galizia’s sons at the bomb scene.
Caruana Galizia believed he had taken photos of the blown-up car using his phone.
Vella said he had not taken photos and that he had given his phone to the police.
“I don’t blame him, he was angry,” he said of Caruana Galizia’s reaction.
Police constable Mario Farrugia told the court that he had been ordered to take down the details of anyone leaving an alley close to the crime scene.
The only vehicle to pass by was a van carrying an elderly man and a passenger. Farrugia said he searched the van and found farming tools, then took down details of the vehicle and its passengers and allowed them on their way.
Reuben Balzan, a police officer stationed with the Rapid Intervention Unit at the time, told the court he took a photo of the crime scene and sent it to his superior, inspector Antoine Cilia.
Cilia testified that he had seen a badly burnt human figure in the car’s driving seat and that the vehicle’s roof had been blown off by the blast.
He spotted a car key on the ground and picked it up just before a fire truck passed over it, he said.
The key appeared to belong to a Peugeot car. A separate court hearing the case against the three alleged murder hitmen has heard that Caruana Galizia was driving a Peugeot 108 at the time of her murder.
Having heard the eyewitness accounts, prosecutor Keith Arnaud summoned fellow investigator Kurt Zahra to the stand, to testify about statements Fenech made concerning his pardon request.
Magistrate Rachel Montebello ordered that his testimony be given behind closed doors.
The case continues on Thursday, February 11.
Lawyers Marion Camilleri, Gianluca Caruana Curran and Charles Mercieca appeared for Yorgen Fenech.
Superintendent Keith Arnaud prosecuted. Lawyer Anthony Vella represented the attorney general’s office.
Lawyers Jason Azzopardi and Therese Comodini Cachia appeared on behalf of the Caruana Galizia family.
Live blog ends
12.15pm That's all from the courtroom for today. This live blog will end here. We will have a full summary of the day's key points of testimony available at the top of this article shortly.
Thank you for having joined us.
Zahra to testify behind closed doors
12.10pm Zahra tells the court that he will be testifying about a confidential statement.
The magistrate says she has already decreed about this – any such testimony must take place behind closed doors.
As expected, Zahra will testify in private.
The inspector is the last witness scheduled to testify today, meaning there will be no further reporting from the courtroom today.
Court session resumes
12.05pm Magistrate Rachel Montebello returns to the courtroom, and the court hearing can resume.
Zahra in court
11.48am Inspector Kurt Zahra has made it to court and the hearing can now resume.
We're expecting lawyers to ask for his testimony to be heard behind closed doors, given that it concerns Fenech's pardon request.
Sitting briefly suspended
11.38am Arnaud tells the magistrate that, having heard these eight witnesses, the court should hear from inspector Kurt Zahra. He wants Zahra to testify about what the accused, Yorgen Fenech, told him about his pardon request.
But Zahra is not here yet, so the magistrate briefly suspends the sitting until he arrives.
Yorgen Fenech is led out of the room and his family exit too.
No questions from defence
11.35am Sant’s soft-spoken testimony has the courtroom gripped. There are no questions from the defence team. One of Fenech’s lawyers, Gianluca Caruana Curran, left the hall as Sant was testifying.
Sant is done testifying, and leaves the courtroom.
Metres away from horror
11.32am Prosecutor Keith Arnaud asks about the woman driver who came by.
Sant says she was driving her daughter from school, “heading in the same direction as is-Sinjura [Daphne]”.
He says Caruana Galizia was driving a white car, not her usual one. He did not recognise her at that point.
Sant: “I can’t explain why, but that day I was driving very slowly. I would usually drive quickly, but the movements I saw that day somehow made me slow down and stop. I can’t explain why. I was some 30 metres away.
“In the panic, my foot slipped off the brake and my car slipped back as hers drifted by in a ball of fire. It was around 3m away from my car.”
11.29am Sant continues.
“More cars came along, on their way from school. Police arrived. I told them it was a bomb. I could do nothing, I just told passing cars to steer away.
He says he was heading home in Bidnija at the time, coming from Tarġa Gap.
“I first saw her car as she took the sloping main road. She had moved around
100m away from her alley and was heading towards Mosta.”
'I couldn't even call for help'
11.26am Right after that, the second explosion happened.
Sant recalls, in graphic detail, what happened.
“Her car came towards me, past the wall and into the field. I panicked and remained glued to the steering wheel.
“I saw parts of her ripped off. Her hand flew off. It was terrible. Then I saw blood... I realised they were human parts. I could do nothing.
“I realised it was a bomb. I couldn’t even call for help. It was so cruel...
“A woman driver came along. She had children in her car. I told her it was a bomb and she called for help. Then a young man, in tears, came running down. I realised he was Daphne Caruana Galizia’s son.”
'I heard a piercing scream'
11.23am Francis Sant, a Bidnija resident, is the next witness.
He says he was driving towards Bidnija at around 3pm on the day. As he drove up the hill, he saw a small car heading in his direction. Then it suddenly slowed down.
“I sensed something was wrong,” Sant says. The person inside the car appeared to be panicking, he says.
“It made me afraid. I heard a small bang, like fireworks. Then I heard a piercing scream. She was in a bad way.”
11.20am Vella says he knew the Caruana Galizia family.
“I knew him as a child. I knew them as children. I knew the family. I had even done some work for them at home. At the time, I didn’t realise who his mother was,” Vella says.
The magistrate asks Vella to clarify: did he or did he not know them?
Vella says he did, but he did not know who was inside the car.
Did he know that it was Matthew Caruana Galizia?
Vella says he did not.
“He only spoke in English, in difficult English. He offended me and kept saying I took photos of his mother.”
Had he taken photos?
So he wrongly accused him?
The witness says police took the broken phone and kept it. One police officer and two soldiers were onsite at the time.
Vella says he ended up with some small scratches on his chest and two ripped buttons. He did not take the incident any further.
Scuffle over phone photo
11.14am Mario Vella takes the witness stand. He’s the man who had an argument with Matthew Caruana Galizia at the crime scene.
Vella says he was at an ironmonger in Mosta when the bomb went off. He lives nearby and his daughter had called him, for fear something had happened at their farm.
Vella headed back and found a burning car, a young man and officers trying to put out the fire.
“I walked a way off and met someone called Sant, who told me people were trapped inside.”
Vella says he called his siblings and told them to avoid the area. Then he got into his car and asked police if he could leave. They said yes and started to remove police tape.
“Suddenly a young man came up to me. He said, ‘you took pictures of mum’, angrily.”
Vella says police took the phone and told him there were no pictures.
“I told him, ‘here, see for yourself’. He took the phone and smashed it. I don’t blame him, he was angry.”
Vella says he then approached Caruana Galizia and a scuffle broke out between the two, but it was “nothing serious” and the situation soon calmed down.
Searching the vehicle
11.05am Defence lawyer Marion Camilleri asks for details. Did Farrugia keep a copy of his notes? He says he did not – he handed the original notes to Cilia. They included details about the car’s number plate, colour, make, its driver and passenger.
“I think it was some farmer driving away,” he tells the magistrate.
He says he had been instructed to take down the details of anyone leaving an alley close to the crime scene.
The van was the only vehicle that drove past while he was there, he says.
Camilleri asks whether he is sure of the details he jotted down, and whether he checked the car for anything suspicious.
Farrugia says he did: he searched the vehicle and found farming tools inside it. The driver was an elderly man.
“It seemed there was nothing there,” he says.
Camilleri presses further. Is he sure there was nothing linked to the crime?
The magistrate intervenes and says the matter is exhausted.
Farrugia is done testifying.
Van at crime scene
11.01am Police constable Mario Farrugia steps up to the witness stand.
He was at the Ta’ Kandia police base on the day of the explosion.
Farrugia’s testimony is very similar to those which preceded him: he found CPD firefighters at the scene when he arrived and did not approach the burning car.
There was “some commotion” a short distance away, but it was soon sorted out.
He says a van drove out of the area. He took the driver’s details and car registration number and passed them on to his superior.
Closing off the road
10.56am Another RIU officer, William Galea, is next. He confirms testimony given by other witnesses about receiving word of the explosion, says he helped close off the road and saw firefighters and an ambulance on site.
That’s all from Galea.
'It was very hectic'
10.55am Why did Balzan take just one photo, the defence asks.
He says there were other people – firefighters, RIU officers – at the scene.
“It was very hectic [kien hemm ħafna ġenn],” he says.
He took the photo to preserve the best possible evidence, then cleared the site and told people to keep away.
Balzan is asked about a small note he is holding in his hand. He replies that it’s just a memory aid - he had jotted down the date of the murder, in case he blanked out while testifying.
That's all from this witness.
Questions for witness
10.52am Defence lawyer Marion Camilleri has some questions.
Were two calls made to the control room?
Balzan says the report came via radio, not phone. First he was told that a car was on fire, and then that there had been an explosion.
He says he took the photo with his personal mobile phone, then passed it on to his superior, Cilia [who testified before him].
Balzan says he is not sure whether he sent him the photo via WhatsApp, but that he’s sure he passed it from his phone to Cilia’s at his office.
He did not print it and then deleted it, he says.
Crime scene photo
10.49am Police officer Reuben Balzan is the next witness. He was stationed at the RIU at the time.
On the day of the murder, a call came through to the police control room at 3pm about a car being on fire.
Balzan says he headed to the site and was told en route that the fire was caused by an explosion. When he arrived, the fire was being put out.
Balzan says he took photos to preserve the scene, in case the car was moved. The site was then closed off using police tape.
The witness is shown a photo and confirms he took it.
10.45am Cilia is asked whether the argument between Matthew Caruana Galizia and the man taking photos resulted in any police action.
He says he is not aware of any follow-up.
That’s all from Cilia.
10.43am Defence lawyer Marion Camilleri asks the witness when he compiled the four-page report.
Cilia says he did so shortly after the explosion.
Who asked him to prepare the report?
Cilia says it was inspector Kurt Zahra, who asked him to provide updates about the officers involved.
Sealing off crime scene
10.41am Superintendent Keith Arnaud asks for some specifics about the report.
Cilia says he had closed off the blast scene to keep members of the public out of it. There were people working in nearby fields, he recalls.
He says he himself took photos of the crime scene.
Report of incident
10.36am The witness tells the court that he had prepared a report about what he found, which he had presented in a magisterial inquiry into the murder that was originally led by magistrate [now judge] Anthony Vella.
Finding a car key
10.34am Cilia says he approached the blown-up car. Its roof had been ripped off and a human figure could be seen in the driver’s seat, badly burnt.
A fire engine was about to drive over a car key, Cilia says.
“I grabbed that key. It matched that of a Peugeot vehicle.”
Magistrate [now judge] Consuelo Scerri Herrera then arrived on-site.
Car and body parts
10.30am Inspector Antoine Cilia from the police’s Rapid Intervention Unit is next.
He recalls receiving a call at the police control room from an eyewitness who saw the explosion. They reported seeing a person inside [the car].
Cilia says he went onsite, where he found car parts and body parts scattered around.
He says other officers were trying to calm down two men who were arguing: they were Matthew Caruana Galizia and a man with the surname 'Vella'.
Caruana Galizia was upset because the man was taking photos.
"That's when I got the first clue of who the victim might be," Cilia says.
The other man was upset because his phone was broken.
"I tried to calm him down, telling him Matthew Caruana Galizia had just lost his mother."
Police constable recalls crime scene
10.27am Police constable Roderick Vassallo is the next witness.
Vassallo was on duty on the day of the murder. He tells the court he had just left the Ta’ Kandia police academy when a call about a car bomb explosion came through.
Vassallo went onsite and saw two people arguing over a mobile phone.
It was the victim’s son [Matthew] arguing with a man aged 50 or so.
“We stepped in to break up the argument,” he says. Firemen were already putting out the flames at the time.
Vassallo is done testifying.
10.23am Superintendent James Grech is the day’s first witness.
He testifies that on October 16, 2017 [the day of the murder] he was stationed at CID. At 3.00pm he was told about an explosion in Bidnija. The information came from the Mosta police station.
Grech says he was at the scene of the crime until a forensics team arrived.
He then went to Percius car hire, to get the key to a Peugeot 108 which Caruana Galizia had leased.
That's all from Grech.
10.20am The other case is now over, and Yorgen Fenech is summoned back into the courtroom. He takes his place in the dock.
There's a new face at the prosecution bench today: Anthony Vella replaces Philip Galea Farrugia as the representative of the attorney general's office.
10.15am Meanwhile, seats on the other side of the courtroom are occupied by Daphne Caruana Galizia's sisters and her husband Peter.
They're on the same side as the prosecution desk, where superintendent Arnaud and Caruana Galizia family lawyer Jason Azzopardi are seated.
A quiet word
10.12am The magistrate is handling another case at the moment before turning her attention to the Caruana Galizia one.
Fenech and his lawyers pop out of the courtroom through the back door, under tight escort, to have a word in private as they wait.
His wife and mother are here today, as are other family members and friends of his. They're all seated on one side of the hall.
Yorgen Fenech in court
10.06am Fenech has been escorted into the courtroom, under heavy security as usual.
What happened last time?
10.02am When this court last convened a week ago, it was to hear from Caruana Galizia’s son Matthew and lead investigator and prosecutor Keith Arnaud.
Both witnesses provided some key revelations. Matthew Caruana Galizia described the “big splash” about Electrogas that his mother was planning to publish and said leaked emails all indicated Fenech was the consortium's point man.
Keith Arnaud said text messages indicated Fenech was planning to flee the country before his arrest and confirmed that prime minister Joseph Muscat had texted Fenech “We need to talk, me, you and K" in January 2019.
Read the full report of last week’s court hearing.
Who are the main players?
9.55am Let's take a look at the key figures in this complex case.
Yorgen Fenech: a business tycoon and heir to a family fortune, and the man in the dock: Fenech is accused of complicity in Daphne Caruana Galizia's murder;
Melvin Theuma: a taxi driver who worked for Fenech and who has testified that he served as a middleman between Fenech and the alleged hitmen;
Vince Muscat, Alfred Degiorgio, George Degiorgio: the alleged hitmen;
Keith Arnaud, Kurt Zahra: the lead police investigators and prosecutors;
Keith Schembri: a childhood friend of Fenech's and the chief of staff to Joseph Muscat when he was prime minister;
Rachel Montebello: the presiding magistrate;
Gianluca Caruana Curran, Marion Camilleri, Charles Mercieca: Yorgen Fenech's legal team;
Jason Azzopardi, Therese Comodini Cachia: lawyers appearing for the Caruana Galizia family.
Anthony Vella: representing the attorney general's office and assisting the prosecution.
9.50am Good morning and welcome to this live blog. We're at the Valletta law courts today, where the compilation against Yorgen Fenech is to continue.
Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.Support Us