Scientists go on trial for failing to warn public about L'Aquila quake

A group of Italian scientists went on trial yesterday accused of manslaughter for playing down the risks before an earthquake in L'Aquila in 2009 that killed more than 300 people and razed the medieval city to the ground.

Prosecutors say the six experts and one senior official should have warned people of the danger in the days leading up to the quake on 6 April, after earlier seismic activity. But the international scientific community has rallied around the Italian experts, arguing that they could not have predicted the 6.3-magnitude quake.

The seven include the prominent scientists Enzo Boschi, until recently the president of Italy's National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology; and Claudio Eva, a physics professor at the University of Genova. They were members of a panel that had met six days before the disaster to assess risk after tremors had shaken the walled city.

At that meeting, the committee chaired by Franco Barberi of the Civil Protection Agency, concluded there was no evidence to suggest that a major quake was imminent, even though more than 400 low-magnitude shocks had occurred in the Abruzzo region in the previous four months. In one much-quoted interview, Bernardo De Bernardinis, then vice-chief of the technical division of the Civil Protection Agency, responded casually to a question about whether residents should just sit back and relax with a glass of wine. "Absolutely – a Montepulciano Doc," he replied.

Prosecutors say the panel gave overly reassuring information to local people, who might otherwise have taken steps to protect themselves. In the indictment, the seven are accused of "negligence and imprudence" and of having provided "incomplete, imprecise and contradictory information".

The scientists deny negligence. "You cannot put science on trial," Professor Eva's lawyer, Alfredo Biondi, told AFP. He also noted that during the meeting of the expert panel, his client had said "one cannot rule out a major quake".

And in a letter to President Giorgio Napolitano, more than 5,000 scientists from Italy and around the world said the defendants essentially faced trumped-up charges because it was impossible to predict with any accuracy, the time and location of earthquakes.

Rick Aster, the president of the Seismological Society of America, said: "Pursuing legal action against members of the seismological community after an earthquake is unprecedented and reflects a misunderstanding of the science of earthquakes."

The American Geophysical Union warned that the trial could hamper future research into earthquake risk. "Litigation will discourage scientists and officials from advising their government or even working in the field of seismology and seismic risk assessment," the organisation said.

But Vincenzo Vittorini, a doctor who founded the group "309 martyrs" after losing his wife and daughter in the disaster, said: "No one expected to be told the exact time of the quake. We just wanted to be warned that we were sitting on a bomb."

Many of the deaths were blamed on the collapse of buildings that had not been constructed to the standard required for such a quake-prone area. The next hearing is set for 1 October.

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: Plumber

£22000 - £25900 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Company is expanding and th...

Recruitment Genius: Corporate Account Manager

£27000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Corporate Account Manager is ...

Recruitment Genius: Chef de Partie

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This award winning conference venues provider...

Recruitment Genius: Admin Assistant

£12000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An expanding Insurance Brokerag...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders