Italian scientists jailed for six years after failing to issue warnings ahead of deadly L’Aquila earthquake

Leading geophysicists say trial over deadly L’Aquila quake should never have been held

Milan

An Italian court has handed down six-year jail sentences to six scientists and a senior government official for failing to properly communicate the risk ahead of the deadly L’Aquila earthquake, in a verdict that will shock and surprise the international scientific community.

In the regional court in L’Aquila, the medieval city levelled by the April 2009 disaster, all seven were found guilty of manslaughter. Two judges decided the experts had downplayed the risk of a massive quake striking the region in the days ahead of the tragedy.

In the event, 309 lives were lost in the early hours of 6 April as citizens’ ancient homes collapsed around them while they slept. The seven convicted, all members of a civil protection agency called the National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks, were accused by prosecutors of negligence and malpractice in their duty of protecting the public. All seven denied the charges.

The 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 met six days before the disaster to assess risk after a series of tremors shook the city.

After today’s verdict Dr Boschi said: “I am dejected, desperate. I thought I would have been acquitted. I still don’t understand what I was convicted of.”

The case has drawn wide condemnation from leading scientists around the world. Dr John Elliott of Oxford University’s Department of Earth Sciences said today: “This verdict is a sad end to a tragic series of events in L’Aquila. Earthquakes cannot be predicted, and these scientists should not even have been on trial accused of providing incomplete information.”

The American Geophysical Union has warned that the risk of future litigation may deter scientists from advising governments or even working to assess seismic risk.

But Wania della Vigna, a lawyer who represented 11 of the plaintiffs, said: “This is a historic sentence, above all for the victims.”

The experts were also ordered to pay more than €9m (£7.3m) in damages. Italian courts have a reputation for being unafraid to challenge mainstream scientific opinion.

But the case against the seven experts in L’Aquila was more subtle than it at first appeared. The prosecution – and many survivors – did not contend that the experts ought to have predicted when the quake would strike.

Instead they accused them of downplaying the risk that it might occur following a series of small tremors in the area. As a result it was claimed that many inhabitants who would have fled their ancient homes instead remained indoors on the night of 5 April, 2009, when L’Aquila was razed.

Notoriously, one of the seven convicted, Bernardo De Bernardinis, a senior figure in Italy’s Civil Protection Agency, appeared to respond casually to question about the risk at a press conference on 31 March, saying there was “no danger” because the small shocks indicated that a “continuous discharge of energy” was occurring.

That advice was considered to be untrue. And many senior scientists have said the panel should have warned the public that 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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
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: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence