A trio tried to blackmail a man for involvement with a minor - after the woman involved crept into his car as he drove through Ta' Xbiex and refused to leave, the driver claimed in court. 

The victim recounted in court how one evening back in August 2013, he had been driving through Ta’ Xbiex when a woman had approached his vehicle and slipped inside, asking him to drive on.

She had refused to leave the car when asked to do so, demanding €20 instead, he said. 

No sooner had the driver handed over the money than two male strangers suddenly crept upon him, claiming that they had been searching for the girl for three days, taking away the man’s car key and threatening to report him to the police on the grounds that the girl was a minor.

However, the victim had turned the tables upon the strangers, grabbing his phone and dialing the police himself, thus prompting all three to hand back the keys and snatch the €20 note, before taking to their heels.

The witness later failed to identify his two male aggressors when testifying in court, recognising only the woman, before proceedings against the trio were ultimately split to be dealt with separately.

One the two men, Steve Galea, 26, was subsequently prosecuted along with the other man and his girlfriend for his allegedly involvement in a series of violent robberies against unsuspecting victims.

The accused pleaded not guilty to multiple charges including the thefts, holding the victims at knifepoint, violently forcing his girlfriend into prostitution, living off her earnings, running a brothel, carrying an unlicensed weapon and committing such wrongdoing during the operative period of two earlier suspended sentences.

Mr Galea’s former girlfriend had subsequently retracted her first version, insisting that she had worked as a prostitute out of her own will, before her 3-month relationship with the accused.

She also denied that he had been violent – cutting off her hair with a knife on one occasion – and explaining that they had used her earnings to pay for daily needs.

The woman had also denied the violent thefts, ultimately withdrawing her complaint against Mr Galea, who is also the father of her two children.

Upon a request by the man’s defence team, the court appointed a probation officer to draw up a Social Enquiry Report shedding light upon the accused’s background.

The officer informed the court that in 2015, the accused was still struggling to quit his drug addiction, showed little urge to take up a stable job, had a shaky relationship with his girlfriend and led an idle life.

However, the following year, after a number of false starts, the accused finally embarked upon a residential drug rehabilitation programme, which he successfully completed, stepping out with a fresh positive outlook on life, testing clean of drugs and with a regular Monday to Friday job.

A letter from Caritas was handed over to the Court, which observed that Mr Galea had registered marked progress, having “integrated well with his peers and is today a role model to others struggling with their addiction”.

In the light of all this, the letter recommended that “incarceration at this moment in time is detrimental to his recovery and his therapeutic process”.

In the light of such recommendation, the court, presided over by magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit, further noted that the prosecution had shown inconsistency in handling its case, failing to prove the date of the alleged violent episode at Ta’ Xbiex and failing to summon the other two co-accused to testify.

Nor had the prosecution proved the existence of the alleged brothel, identifying no premises nor proving that the accused had employed violence against his girlfriend.

The only clear piece of evidence was the knife found in the accused’s car whose presence he justified on the grounds of self-defence, the court observed.

In the light of all this, the court declared the man guilty of the unlicensed possession of the weapon and of having lived off the earnings of prostitution, as well as breaching two suspended sentences, while acquitting him of other charges.

The court placed the accused under a 3-year Probation Order and declared that the terms of the earlier suspended sentences were to run afresh.

Lawyers Franco Debono, Marion Camilleri and Amadeus Cachia were defence counsel.