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.

VIDEO
Arts & Entertainment
tv
News
Matthew Mcnulty and Jessica Brown Findlay in 'Jamaica Inn'
mediaHundreds complain over dialogue levels in period drama
News
peopleJay Z and Beyoncé to buy £5.5m London townhouse
Voices
voicesMoyes' tragedy is one the Deputy PM understands all too well, says Matthew Norman
Arts & Entertainment
Rocker of ages: Chuck Berry
musicWhy do musicians play into old age?
Arts & Entertainment
With Jo Joyner in 'Trying Again'
tvHe talks to Alice Jones on swapping politics for pillow talk
News
Jilly's jewels: gardener Alan Titchmarsh
peopleCountry Life magazine's list of 'gallant' public figures throws light on what it means to be a gentleman in the modern world
Sport
John Terry goes down injured in the 70th minute
sportAtletico Madrid 0 Chelsea 0: Blues can finish the job at Stamford Bridge, but injuries to Terry and Cech are a concern for Mourinho
Student
student
News
<b>Rebecca Adlington</b>
<br />This, the first British swimmer to win two
Olympic gold medals in 100 years, is the eversmiling
face of the athletes who will, we're
confident, make us all proud at London 2012
peopleRebecca Adlington on 'nose surgery'
Arts & Entertainment
tvJudge for yourself
Life & Style
tech
News
Tough call: is the psychological distress Trott is suffering an illness? (Getty)
healthJonathan Trott and the problems of describing mental illness
Life & Style
23 April 2014: Google marks St George's Day with a drawing depicting England's patron saint slaying a fire-breathing dragon
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Clinical Negligence

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence - Oxford An opportunity f...

Projects Financial Analyst - Global Technology firm

£55000 - £62000 per annum + outstanding benefits and bonus: Pro-Recruitment Gr...

Reception Teacher

£120 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Reception teacher required for an Outs...

Commercial B2B Pricing Specialist - Global Bids and Tenders

£35000 - £45000 per annum + excellent company benefits : Pro-Recruitment Group...

Day In a Page

Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home

It's not always fun in the sun: Moving abroad does not guarantee happiness

Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home
Migrants in Britain a decade on: They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire

Migrants in Britain a decade on

They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire
Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

The 'Thick of It' favourite thinks the romcom is an 'awful genre'. So why is he happy with a starring role in Sky Living's new Lake District-set series 'Trying Again'?
Why musicians play into their old age

Why musicians play into their old age

Nick Hasted looks at how they are driven by a burning desire to keep on entertaining fans despite risking ridicule
How can you tell a gentleman?

How can you tell a gentleman?

A list of public figures with gallant attributes by Country Life magazine throws a fascinating light on what it means to be a gentleman in the modern world
Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

The duo behind Asos and Achica have launched a new venture offering haute couture to help make furry companions fashionable
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire
Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

Celebrate St George’s Day with a nice cup of tea. Now you just need to get the water boiled
Sam Wallace: Why Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term

Sam Wallace

Why Ryan Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term
Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

Having smashed Sergei Bubka's 21-year-old record, the French phenomenon tells Simon Turnbull he can go higher
Through the screen: British Pathé opens its archives

Through the screen

British Pathé opens its archives
The man behind the papier mâché mask

Frank Sidebottom

The man behind the papier mâché mask
Chris Marker: Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

Chris Marker retrospective is a revelation
Boston runs again: Thousands take to the streets for marathon as city honours dead and injured of last year's bombing

Boston runs again

Thousands of runners take to the streets as city honours dead of last year
40 years of fostering and still holding the babies (and with no plans to retire)

40 years of fostering and holding the babies

In their seventies and still working as specialist foster parents