A policeman has been stripped off the Officer of the Year award he received last week after it emerged that he had a history of domestic violence cases, The Sunday Times of Malta revealed.
The decision to revoke the award was taken after Times of Malta asked the Home Affairs Minister and the police force whether it was aware that the officer in question, Saviour Chircop, may not be the hero he was made out to be.
PC Chircop was presented with the Officer of the Year award last Sunday in recognition of his managing, while off-duty and out with his family, to disarm a knife-wielding man who was attacking a pensioner.
The award is given to those officers who distinguish themselves in their work.
“Police work is 24 hours and not just when you are wearing the uniform. It is my duty to intervene even when I am off-duty,” Mr Chircop told this newspaper soon after he received the award.
However, it later emerged that Mr Chircop had twice ended up in court charged with domestic violence. In both instances, the proceedings came to a sudden halt when the officer’s wife informed the magistrate that she was not willing to proceed with the case against her husband.
In its official reply to questions sent by The Sunday Times of Malta, the police said: “The court did not find the officer mentioned guilty. In view of the court decision, there was nothing to impede him from being nominated and subsequently awarded the Officer of the Year Award.”
But in subsequent questions, this newspaper said it had the court judgments in hand and asked the police to confirm that the charges had been dropped and whether it had investigated the reasons. The e-mail message was copied to Home Affairs Minister Michael Farrugia, who asked the police to look into the questions.
He later replied, saying he had ordered the revocation of the award after learning through this paper that the officer had domestic violence reports filed against him and had twice appeared in court over them.
“I believe we need to send a strong message that these things, including possession of drugs, are simply not acceptable, especially within the disciplined forces. We are not taking them lightly. I have asked the police force to revoke the award. We are leading by example and we are setting the standards,” Dr Farrugia said. He also said he had asked the police to effect verifications prior to handing out awards.
The two judgments The Sunday Times of Malta has in hand are over incidents in 2008 and 2011. In the first case, PC Chircop appeared before Magistrate Anthony Vella charged with slightly injuring his wife, assaulting, threatening and harassing her and causing her to fear that violence would be used against her.
He was further charged with committing a crime he was duty-bound to prevent. But the injured party told the magistrate she did not want to proceed with the case, as it was an “isolated incident” and the couple were back on good terms. The magistrate had no option but to cease the proceedings.
Almost three years later, in October 2011, PC Chircop appeared in court again, before Magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit. He was charged with causing his wife to fear violence would be used against her, harassing and threatening her and committing a crime he was duty-bound to prevent. This time, the victim said she did not want to testify against him and did not want the case to proceed, leading the magistrate to clear the constable of all the charges.
Just last week, disgraced Assistant Police Commissioner Mario Tonna stepped down after a report of domestic abuse from his partner. His letter of resignation was accepted by the Police Commissioner.
A story first reported in In-Nazzjon said the woman had filed a report at the Sliema station after Mr Tonna headbutted her during an argument. She reported it was not the first time he had physically attacked her. Mr Tonna immediately resigned.