Open

Coming up

Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

MEDIAWATCH

No strategy and a beige suit

Read more

THE WORLD THIS WEEK

The World This Week - 29 August 2014 (part 2)

Read more

THE WORLD THIS WEEK

The World This Week - 29 August 2014

Read more

ENCORE!

Alain Choquette: A Hilarious Magician in Paris

Read more

FOCUS

France welcomes Iraqi Christian refugees

Read more

FRANCE IN FOCUS

Emmanuel Macron: A new economy minister with a pro-business agenda

Read more

THE OBSERVERS

More of this year's best Observers stories

Read more

#TECH 24

Changing the world, one video game at a time

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

Socialist Party summer conference kicks off in explosive atmosphere

Read more

  • EU leaders choose Tusk and Mogherini for top jobs, discuss Russia sanctions

    Read more

  • Dozens of UN peacekeepers still held by Syrian jihadists

    Read more

  • Opposition protesters clash with Pakistani police outside PM's house

    Read more

  • Austerity row overshadows French Socialist’s annual rally

    Read more

  • Egypt sentences Brotherhood leader Badie to life

    Read more

  • Ceasfire allows Gaza families to relax on the beach

    Read more

  • S. Africa condemns 'military coup' in Lesotho

    Read more

  • Kerry calls for 'coalition of nations' to battle IS militants

    Read more

  • Ukrainian plane with seven on board crashes in Algeria

    Read more

  • Exclusive: Fabius warns Russia of more sanctions

    Read more

  • IMF backs Lagarde amid French corruption probe

    Read more

  • Ebola drug ‘ZMapp’ heals all monkeys in study

    Read more

  • British killer escapes from French psychiatric hospital

    Read more

  • Police hunt for British boy with brain tumour taken to France

    Read more

  • Ukraine to relaunch NATO membership bid

    Read more

  • Suriname leader’s son pleads guilty to courting Hezbollah

    Read more

  • Mapping Ukraine: Canada and Russia in ‘tweet for tat’ row

    Read more

Europe

Italian scientists jailed for not warning of deadly quake

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2012-10-22

An Italian court jailed seven experts on Monday for failing to issue adequate warnings to the public before a deadly earthquake hit the town of L'Aquila in 2009, killing 309 people. The landmark case has angered the scientific community.

Six Italian scientists and a government official were sentenced to six years in jail on Monday for multiple manslaughter in a watershed ruling that found them guilty of underestimating the risks of a killer earthquake in 2009.

They were also ordered to pay more than nine million euros (almost $12 million) in damages to survivors in the devastated medieval town of L'Aquila in a case that has sparked outrage in the international science community.

Under the Italian justice system, the seven remain free until they have exhausted two chances to appeal the verdict.

Prosecutor Fabio Picuti had asked for jail sentences of four years for each defendant for failing to alert the population of the walled medieval town to the risks, days before the 6.3-magnitude quake that killed 309 people.

'Historic sentence'

"I am crestfallen, desperate. I thought I would be acquitted. I still don't understand what I'm accused of," said Enzo Boschi, who was the head of Italy's national geophysics institute (INGV) at the time.

All seven defendants were members of the Major Risks Committee which met in L'Aquila on March 31, 2009 -- six days before the quake devastated the region, tearing down houses and churches and leaving thousands of people homeless.

"This is a historic sentence, above all for the victims," said lawyer Wania della Vigna, who represents 11 plaintiffs, including the family of an Israeli student who died when a student residence collapsed on top of him.

"It also marks a step forward for the justice system and I hope it will lead to change, not only in Italy but across the world," she said.

The bright blue classroom-sized temporary tribunal in L'Aquila -- built on an industrial estate after the town's historic court was flattened in the quake -- was packed with lawyers, advisors and international media for the verdict.

Four of the defendants were in court, as well as a small group of survivors.

'We cannot call this a victory'

Aldo Scimia, whose mother was killed, welled up as the verdict was read out.

"We cannot call this a victory. It's a tragedy, whatever way you look at it, it won't bring our loved ones back," he said.

"I continue to call this a massacre at the hand of the state, but at least now we hope that our children may live safer lives."

Picuti had slammed the experts for providing "an incomplete, inept, unsuitable and criminally mistaken" analysis, which reassured locals and led many to stay indoors when the first tremors hit.

Some commentators had warned that any convictions would dissuade other experts from sharing their expertise for fear of legal retribution.

Filippo Dinacci, lawyer for the-then deputy director of the Civil Protection agency Bernardo De Bernardinis and its seismic risk office chief Mauro Dolce, said it was "difficult to understand" the verdict -- after criticising the charges last week as something out of "medieval criminal law".

"It seems to me that we were far beyond the limits of the concept of responsibility. We have to be careful because some mechanisms could have a waterfall effect on other public institutions," he said.

The government committee met after a series of small tremors in the preceding weeks had sown panic among local inhabitants -- particularly after a resident began making worrying unofficial earthquake predictions.

Italy's top seismologists were called to evaluate the situation and De Bernardinis gave press interviews saying the seismic activity in L'Aquila posed "no danger".

"The scientific community continues to assure me that, to the contrary, it's a favourable situation because of the continuous discharge of energy," he said.

Government lawyer Carlo Sica, who had called for the seven defendants to be acquitted, said that minutes from the March 31 meeting were not valid as evidence because they were only written up after the April 6 quake.

"They are not guilty of anything, the earthquake's no one's fault," he said.

Scientific community in outrage

"The ruling in my opinion is not fair. We will certainly be appealing," said Alessandra Stefano, lawyer for the head of the European centre of earthquake engineering Gian Michele Calvi.

The case sparked outrage in the international scientific community when the charges were brought against the geophysicists in 2010, with many complaining that they were merely scapegoats and warning against putting science on trial.

Over 5,000 members of the scientific community sent an open letter to President Giorgio Napolitano denouncing the trial against colleagues for failing to predict a quake -- a feat widely acknowledged to be impossible.

The other defendants are Giulio Selvaggi, head of the INGV's national earthquake centre in Rome; Franco Barberi from Rome's University Three and Claudio Eva from the University of Genoa.

About 120,000 people were affected by the quake, which destroyed the city's historic centre and medieval churches as well as surrounding villages.

L'Aquila resident Ortense, whose sister was killed in the quake, said: "We didn't come here to get revenge, these men are all family men. But it does bring some comfort to know that someone will pay the price for misleading us."

Huge mounds of rubble still lie in the streets in the off-limits zone in L'Aquila's city centre and in the surrounding villages, a portent reminder of the widespread destruction caused by the quake, three years on.

(AFP)

Date created : 2012-10-22

  • ITALY

    A year on, survivors struggle to deal with aftermath of L'Aquila quake

    Read more

  • ITALY - EARTHQUAKE

    Deadly earthquake strikes northern Italy

    Read more

  • ITALY

    Earthquake rattles northern Italy

    Read more

COMMENT(S)