The victim in last week’s fatal incident at a Qawra bar had allegedly been coughing onto the bar owner’s drink, triggering the one-minute fight that ended in a deadly push down the bar steps onto the pavement below.
Details of the incident came to light on Thursday during the first hearing of the compilation of evidence against David Busuttil, the 59-year-old owner of Munchies pub, who is facing murder charges over the fight which broke out in the very early hours of Friday.
It was a quiet evening at the pub and shortly before the unfortunate episode, Busuttil had been watching a game of darts inside the bar, alongside Kieran Micallef, a friend who occasionally lent a hand at the pub.
It was some time past midnight when trouble brewed.
The victim, Roger Dudley-Ward, had gone to the pub along with a friend, London-born Shane Eagle, who witnessed the whole incident and testified about the dynamics of the argument on Thursday.
All three were gathered around a high table on the patio outside the bar in Triq it-Turisti.
Busuttil was sipping a Captain Morgan with ginger ale while the other two men were drinking beer out of cans.
While Busuttil discussed time share business with Eagle, Dudley-Ward, who appeared to have had one drink too many, repeatedly interrupted the conversation, in spite of the bar owner telling him to shut up.
Then Dudley-Ward began to cough, over and over, without turning away from the table.
That somewhat “extravagant” coughing was audible in footage retrieved from the CCTV cameras which had captured the entire sequence of events, said prosecuting Inspector Shaun Pawney when testifying.
“However, he appeared to be covering his mouth.”
That unwelcome coughing triggered a reaction by Busuttil who suddenly flung the contents of his glass straight at the other man, then got up and was about to make his way inside when Dudley-Ward went after him.
“I was putting my hands up all the time. I wasn’t coughing at you,” the man insisted.
He then suddenly flung the contents of his beer can at Busuttil.
That was the point when the argument turned physical.
Busuttil shoved the other man towards the steps, but Micallef, who had been smoking a cigarette outside, grabbed him and stopped him from falling.Busuttil then hit out at the man, on the side and back.
As Dudley-Ward walked back up the steps to the patio, in the direction of his mobile phone which had fallen on the first step, Busuttil kicked him on the chin, allegedly causing the fatal fall.
The victim smashed his head on the pavement and did not stir.
Some seven minutes later, it was Busuttil himself who dialled emergency for an ambulance.
The barman could be heard telling some unidentified third party outside the bar that “he [Dudley-Ward] was coughing into my glass”.
The entire fight lasted no longer than one minute, explained the inspector.
That evening the victim had just returned from a holiday in Istanbul and was in “a very good mood,” telling his friend Shane all about the trip when the two met at the pub.
He recalled how the mood changed when David began to tell Roger to “shut up” when he butted into their conversation, but could not remember his friend’s coughing, although he did recall David telling him not to cough.
After the final fall, he held the victim on the pavement, his hands and arms covered in blood.
“He wasn’t that conscious but at one point he grabbed my hand away from the back of my head… He bled in my arms,” said the witness.
Accused insisted he never intended to harm victim
Micallef also testified on Thursday, explaining that the alleged victim had been served some four or five beers that evening.
He did not witness the final fall but recalled how he had provided an ice pack for the injured man.
However, he only got to know of his death the following morning.
“The next day I woke up and saw the news. I had no idea. I expected Roger to come back with sutures.”
The prosecution said that Busuttil insisted that he never intended to harm the victim but had simply been defending himself, explaining that the other man was “a tall, big guy”.
A medico-legal forensic expert later confirmed that the victim had a very high level of alcohol in his blood, around 220mg, even at the autopsy.
He had died due to haemorrhage suffered as a result of the blow to the head when he landed on the pavement. Call data from the accused’s phone showed a missed call and a message to a third party who operated the surveillance cameras at the pub.
The prosecution interpreted that as an attempt to tamper with evidence even in light of the fact that Busuttil allegedly told an officer, while having a smoke at the police headquarters, that he wished he could “get rid of his mobile and DVR because that was the only evidence in police hands”.
But that allegation was strongly contested by defence lawyer Franco Debono when making submissions on bail.
There were tears of relief from the accused and his relatives in the courtroom when Magistrate Doreen Clarke upheld the request for bail against a deposit of €10,000, a personal guarantee of €10,000, signing the bail book twice a week and on condition of keeping away from prosecution witnesses.
The case continues in August.
AG lawyers Nathaniel Falzon and Francesco Refalo assisted inspector Pawney. Lawyer Marion Camilleri was also defence counsel.
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