Dutch police liable for 2011 mall shooting: court


The Hague (AFP)

Dutch police were liable for a 2011 mall shooting in which six people were killed as the gunman should never have been granted an gun licence, an appeals court ruled Tuesday.

The surprise ruling comes as the issue of gun control is high on the global agenda following a series of deadly armed assaults in the United States.

The Netherlands was thrown into mourning after Tristan van der Vlis went on a Saturday lunchtime shooting spree in the town of Alphen aan de Rijn in April 2011.

Six people died and 16 were wounded as Van der Vlis fired three weapons, unleashing a hail of automatic gunfire in the packed mall, before turning the gun on himself.

A member of a shooting club, the 24-year-old had been given a gun permit in 2008. He said in a letter to his parents before the attack that he was unhappy, and wanted to commit suicide.

"The police are liable for the personal injury and the deaths caused by the shooting at the De Ridderhof shopping centre," the court said in a statement on Tuesday.

"The standard that a gun licence must be refused if there are any concerns about abuse is there precisely to protect citizens from the damaging consequences of such abuse," it said.

The appeals court in The Hague overturned an earlier 2015 ruling by a lower court, which merely said the police had made mistakes.

Instead, Tuesday's ruling found that police had been negligent in granting Van der Vlis a licence to own guns after his previous application in 2005 had been turned down because he was found to have illegally fired an airgun.

It had also emerged that Van der Vlis suffered from psychological problems, dating back to 2006, which should have raised a red flag with police.

The judges therefore "ordered the police to pay compensation to the families of those killed as well as the wounded", and to pay the court costs of the 51 plaintiffs.

For the normally peaceful Dutch, unused to large-scale violence, the shooting came as a shock. One witness called it the day the country "lost its innocence."