Final defence arguments due to be heard in Italian trial of scientists who 'failed to predict' L'Aquila earthquake

 

Milan

The trial in earthquake-torn Italian city of L’Aquila that has send shock waves through the international scientific community today heard final pleas on behalf of experts accused of downplaying the dangers ahead of the quake that claimed more than 300 lives.

Prosecutors have called on six scientists and one senior civil protection official to each be jailed for four years for manslaughter and causing serious injury. They say the experts understated the risk of a massive quake striking the medieval mountain city following a series of small tremors, and that, as a result, many inhabitants who would have fled their ancient homes instead remained indoors on the night of 5 April 2009, when the disaster razed L’Aquila to the ground.

However, leading scientists have said the seven defendants have been made scapegoats for what was an unforeseeable natural disaster. And today the lawyers began their final pleas, insisting there was no proof the officials’ advice had added to the death toll.

The seven defendants include the prominent scientists Enzo Boschi, the former president of Italy's National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology and Giulio Selvaggi, the organisation’s current head. They were members of a panel that had met six days before the disaster to assess risk after a series of tremors had shaken the city. All seven, acting as members of the National Commission for Prediction and Prevention of Major Risks, deny any wrong-doing or negligence.

Yesterday in his final pleas on behalf of Professor Boschi, the lawyer Marcello Melandri argued that the conclusions of the expert panel in the days before the earthquake could not have inappropriately put citizens’ minds at rest because they had not been sufficiently diffused.

“No-one has yet resolved the problem of who it was who reassured the public of L’Aquila, which was undoubtedly reassured, I’m not doubting that,” he said. “But there’s certainly no proof it was the Major Risks Commission and particularly none implicating Professor Boschi, which is why I’m calling for his acquittal.”

Some inhabitants of L’Aquila have claimed, however, that the expert meeting and small press conference on 31 March 2009, did encourage them to remain at home when their instincts told them to flee. One such person was local surgeon Vincenzo Vittorini, who says he decided to stay indoors, despite a significant 3.9 magnitude tremor on the day before the killer quake.

In the event, his apartment collapsed in the early hours of 6 April and he lost his wife and young daughter. He said he had been one of the residents assured by advice that the series of small shocks was no cause for alarm.

These comments have been attributed to one of the seven defendants, Bernardo De Bernardinis, a senior figure in Italy’s Civil Protection Agency, who appeared to respond casually to a rhetorical question asking whether residents should simply sit back with a glass of wine. “Absolutely,” he said, “a Montepulciano DOC”, adding there was “no danger” because the small shocks indicated that a “continuous discharge of energy” was occurring.

When the indictment of all seven was announced last year, Rick Aster, the president of the Seismological Society of America, said the trial “reflected a misunderstanding of the science of earthquakes”. He noted it was impossible “to accurately and consistently predict the timing, location, and magnitude of earthquakes”.

But other scientists have suggested that the expert panel, in seeking to prevent panic, may have failed to communicate all the known information.

The occurrence of 400 or so small shocks in the region in the days ahead of the disaster raised the chances of an imminent major earthquake by a factor of 100 or perhaps 1,000, even though the absolute risk of such a quake occurring remained very low.

“The public has a right to know about this kind of information,” according to Professor David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk, at Cambridge University. “To suggest otherwise is patronising.”

The final defense arguments conclude tomorrow. The verdict is expected to come no later than 23 October.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Direct Mail Machine Operative

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an i...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Accounts Executive

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for the ...

Recruitment Genius: Team Administrator / Secretary - South East

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time Administrator/Secreta...

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Day In a Page

Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

Today's pre-school child costs £35,000, according to Aviva. And that's but the tip of an iceberg, says DJ Taylor
Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US