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San Gwann men given probation for robbing four petrol stations Two men have been placed on probation and ordered to perform unpaid community works after a court found them guilty of carrying out a string of thefts from petrol pumps. Carmel Hartley, 39, and 24-year-old Matthew Portelli from San Gwann had been accused of the thefts from automated petrol pumps, as well as being charged with relapsing, in 2010. CCTV footage of a silver Peugeot and two persons carrying out the theft had led to the arrests of Portelli and Hartley. During their interrogation, both had admitted to committing the crimes. They repeated this admission in court, but the case had been put off for sentencing. Magistrate Joe Mifsud had been assigned the case, which had started being heard by another magistrate, upon his appointment. The magistrate described the delay in sentencing as unjustifiable. The court quoted a 2015 decision of the Constitutional Court in Onyeabor vs Attorney General, in which that court said that while it "appreciated the volume of work and the lack of resources which led to the situation where it was impossible for cases to be given the court's undivided attention and be resolved swiftly,” this did not justify the situation. “Rather, the State would be failing in its obligation of ensuring that the justice system has the necessary resources to operate efficiently while safeguarding the interests of justice.” The men should not benefit from a reduction in punishment simply because they had admitted, held the magistrate. The court pointed out that jurisprudence had established that where the accused had been caught red handed and a guilty plea was inevitable, this reduction should not apply. But on the other hand, the court also took into account the purposes of punishment at law and the discretion afforded by the legislator to those meting it out. Hartley's psychologist had also testified last September, saying that the man's experience in prison, for a separate offence, had served to rehabilitate him and deter him from reoffending. His disciplinary record at Corradino was spotless and he was performing community work, the court was told. Portelli's probation officer had reported that the accused had since changed his ways and settled down. Portelli was in stable employment, had a family and had successfully tackled his drug problems. A custodial sentence would jeopardise all of this, the officer had testified. The court took all this on board and after finding them guilty in view of their admission, ordered the men to perform 80 hours of unpaid community service and placed them on probation for three years. The magistrate had words of defiance for those who would criticise his approach. For at least the third time in the past fortnight, Mifsud adamantly wrote that the courts were not there to satisfy the hue and cry of angry mobs, but to administer justice. By way of reparation to the victims, Hartley and Portelli were ordered to repay the €7,200 which they had stolen. They were also ordered to pay €2,243 in costs. Inspector Frank Anthony Tabone prosecuted. Lawyer Stefano Filletti was defence counsel.