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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
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

Langley James : Desktop Support Analyst; 1st Line; Moorgate up to £23k

£20000 - £23000 per annum: Langley James : Desktop Support Analyst; 1st Line; ...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Sales Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This fragrance store are looking for enthusias...

Recruitment Genius: Project Manager

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting and rewarding role ...

Recruitment Genius: E-commerce Executive - UK / International

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: You will be joining a long-established, renown...

Day In a Page

In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible