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Following an eight-year legal saga in which the only witness who was present when 17 year old Matthew Bartolo lost his life in an accident involving a woodworking machine was acquitted of all charges, the witness – Matthew’s former colleague, David Peter Blundell – was in court once more earlier today to testify in the criminal case against the director of Construct Furniture and key managerial staff who were in charge of the factory floor at the time when the fatal accident occurred.

Over the past eight years, in spite of having sat through hundreds of court hearings, Matthew’s family remains without a clue as to what actually led to the tragic accident which claimed Matthew’s life. There are two court cases related to Bartolo’s death – a criminal case which was brought to a definitive conclusion earlier this year and an ongoing criminal case against the directors of the company over alleged negligence which led to Matthew’s involuntary homicide.

Blundell himself was the subject of criminal court proceedings over accusations that he had breached occupational health and safety laws by failing to ensure the safety of his younger colleague when the fatal accident occurred in June 2015. Blundell was acquitted of the charge in the first instance of the case, an acquittal which was confirmed on appeal in January. Given that Blundell himself was, up until that point, the subject of criminal proceedings, he had chosen not to testify in the criminal case against the directors which had been suspended while the other criminal case was being heard out.

Following Blundell’s acquittal in January, the criminal case against the director of the company and managerial staff within the company resumed today, with Blundell taking the stand once more. Magistrate Clare Stafrace Zammit presided over today’s proceedings. Almost immediately, Blundell exhibited visible symptoms of distress, and appeared to be dizzy at multiple instances throughout today’s hearing, in particular whenever he was asked to recall details from the day of the accident itself.

To this day, nor Blundell nor anyone else within the company has so far managed to explain how the accident happened. Blundell insisted that he is absolutely sure that Matthew had given him multiple acknowledgements that all was well before he switched on the woodworking machine that fatally wounded him. Answering questions from police inspector Joseph Mercieca about how this occurred, Blundell stated that he was not sure about how Matthew ended up within the safety enclosure surrounding the woodworking machine.

At the time of the incident, Blundell was the only other person besides Matthew who was present on the factory floor. There were no CCTV cameras monitoring the site, meaning that a conclusive explanation as to how Matthew was ensnared by the machine he was using cannot be reached unless further evidence is unearthed.

A photo of Matthew on a decorative memorial plate in the Bartolo family’s household. Photo: Julian Delia

“The gate around the machine is always closed. To place the sheet properly, you need to open the gate and go inside. We went inside, laid the sheet, went out and closed the gate, and then he pressed the suction pedal. I asked Matthew whether everything is okay, twice, and the second time he gave me a thumbs up and switched on the machine. I remember this as clearly as I can see the room in front of me,” Blundell insisted, explaining how the suction pedal is a mechanism that uses suction force to hold the wooden sheet in place when the door frame is being cut.

When asked questions by one of Construct Furniture‘s lawyers on the case – Veronique Dalli – about how exactly they went about placing the wooden sheet on the suction platform, Blundell almost broke down into tears as he questioned how Matthew had ended up within the safety enclosure after giving him a ‘thumbs up’ signal.

“Can you confirm that when Matthew gave you the last ‘thumbs up’ signal you saw, he was outside of the fence?” Dalli asked.

 “Yes, I am absolutely sure about this. My question is: how did he end up there?” Blundell replied, choking up as he did so. When the company’s lawyer asked him about whether he can actually answer that question, he repeated his own question, adding that “this is a question I ask myself everyday” and that had Matthew opened the safety enclosure, the machine would have stopped automatically due to the interlocking safety system of the machine.

“Then I looked at him and I found him…” he continued, trailing off as he lost his voice.

The director of the company, John Agius, together with his daughter Amanda Cefai (who previously ran the factory floor) and her husband James Cefai (who previously served as foreman), who are all accused of involuntary homicide, were also present in the room, along with Matthew’s parents, Claudette and Leonard. Claudette’s parents and her sister, visibly emotional at several points throughout the proceedings, were also present.

During his testimony, Blundell also confirmed that Cefai, the floor manager, had told him that Matthew was familiar with how to work the machine.

“I was told that he knew how to use the machine, and he looked like he knew what he was doing. I don’t know who taught him how to use it, I didn’t do that,” he said, further claiming that he would only work directly with Matthew for an hour or so when their shifts overlapped between 11am and 12.30pm.

He stated that while he worked from 4am to 12.30pm, Matthew would clock in from 11am to 7pm, a claim which clashes directly with evidence gathered by the magisterial inquiry which was held after the incident occurred. The inquiring magistrate, Joe Mifsud, had uncovered how, on the day that the accident occurred, Matthew’s attendance sheet was signed off after the time of his death, raising strong suspicions of possible forgery. Separately, Matthew’s family further confirmed that Matthew would clock in between 6 – 7am rather than at 11am, contradicting Blundell’s testimony in court earlier today.

When answering questions about whether anyone else made use of the machine that claimed Matthew’s life, Blundell stated that he had only witnessed himself and Matthew using it. He explained how, after their daily shared work routine from 11am to 12.30pm, Blundell would give Matthew a handover based on what orders were left for the day and that he had no idea whether anyone else would be working with him after that.

The next hearing, which will likely feature testimonies from the accused and any other witnesses which may be deemed relevant to the case, was set for 25 March at 10.30am.

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