The terror trail that won't grow cold: Dark forces bombed Bologna station in 1980, killing 85. At a retrial tomorrow, the victims' relatives may see justice done

WHEN two laywers, Giuseppe Giampaolo and Paolo Trombetti, stand up in a Bologna courtroom tomorrow, they will be hoping to lay to rest one of the ghosts of Italy's dark political past.

The two men will be demanding justice for the victims of Italy's worst terrorist atrocity, the 1980 Bologna railway station bombing. They represent the families of the 85 people who died when a huge blast ripped through the second- class waiting room on a sweltering morning in August.

Many of the victims were students on holiday. The pictures of weeping rescue workers and mangled bodies - some blown under trains, some in beach-wear for the holiday they would never have - shocked Europe.

Tomorrow's special appeal hearing is the culmination of a legal tale that saw 13 people convicted in 1988 of involvement in the massacre, only to be cleared at a first appeal two years later. Those convicted in the original trial included four young neo-fascists, given life sentences for planting the bomb, two secret service officers and Licio Gelli, grand-master of the banned P2 Masonic Lodge.

With extraordinary tenacity the Association of the Relatives of the Victims geared up for a campaign to keep the issue in the public eye. They lobbied Italy's Supreme Court for the right to have the case reheard. Early last year, perhaps infected by the new reforming spirit seizing Italian public life, the Supreme Court annulled the decision of the appeal court and ordered a new trial.

Since the original trial, evidence has emerged that points to an unholy alliance of right-wing forces, corrupt politicians and secret service agents bent on undermining democracy to hold on to power in the name of the fight against communism. Bologna's place in this process has become clearer. The blast, in a political stronghold of the Communist Party, a well-run, prosperous city, was the climax of a series of atrocities between 1969 and 1984 - an era which became known as the 'Years of Lead'.

The attacks, usually bombings aimed at slaughtering as many civilians as possible, were initially blamed on the extreme left. Now it is accepted that they were part of a 'Strategy of Tension' intended to scare voters away from western Europe's most popular communist party and into the arms of the Christian Democrats.

One of those who will be following the proceedings in Bologna is a retired civil servant from Bath. Harry Mitchell and his wife Shirley lost their daughter Catherine, 21, who died in the blast with her boyfriend, John Kolpinski, from Bristol. Like many people of her age, she was inter-railing around Europe after finishing university.

'I heard about the blast on the radio, while I was gardening, but we didn't connect it with them. We didn't realise they had stopped off at Bologna,' Mr Mitchell says. 'It was a couple of days before we were told that, yes, they thought they had found her.'

A stocky, dapper man, fond of his huge garden, Mr Mitchell has undertaken an almost obsessional quest to learn as much as possible about the forces behind his daughter's death. Boxfile after boxfile in his neat semi-detached home contain cuttings on the outrage.

Less than 150 miles away lives one of the subjects of his correspondence, Roberto Fiore, a prominent Italian neo-fascist. Fiore runs an employment and accommodation agency for foreign students in London, where he has lived since the attack in Bologna.

Although he is not in any way implicated in the massacre, investigators believe he may be able to give them valuable information. He belonged to the political wing of the neo-fascist group whose members were convicted of planting the bomb. But Fiore denies that he knew them. 'I had nothing to do with those people,' he said when contacted at Meeting Point, his office in Kensington.

An Italian attempt in 1982 to extradite Fiore, and a fellow neo-fascist, Massimo Morsello, failed when British magistrates ruled there was insufficient evidence to support the charge on which they were wanted: subversive conspiracy and membership of an armed gang. In 1985, an Italian court sentenced them in absentia to nine and 10 years respectively.

'We were convicted only of belonging to a group not recognised by the state. That is not a crime here,' said Morsello. He does not deny the pair are fascists, but says their political activity is a thing of the past. 'Of course I wanted to subvert the state when I was 18, but I can say categorically that we never broke the law.'

But they may yet be forced to return to the past; Italy has renewed the extradition request, and both governments have reopened proceedings.

In 1984 a convicted neo-fascist, Vincenzo Vinciguerra, was questioned by Bologna investigators. He testified that he had been recruited for an earlier car bomb attack near Venice by Gladio, a shadow army set up by the Italian secret services in the 1950s as part of a Nato plan to create guerrilla resistance in the event of a Soviet invasion or communist takeover in Nato countries. By the time Vinciguerra carried out his attack, in 1972, Gladio was considering pre-emptive action against the increasingly popular Communist Party, according to General Gerardo Serravalle, the secret service chief in charge of the Gladio network.

Forensic reports demonstrated conclusively that explosive from one Gladio arms dump had been used in the Venice car bombing. In Bologna, says Mr Trombetti, experts concluded that the blast, which demolished one wing of the station, was caused by 'retrieved military explosive'. He is reluctant to be more specific but says one can draw one's own conclusions.

Even if the victims' lawyers win their case, some of the real authors of the Bologna outrage will never be brought to justice. But the outcome of the trial will be seen as a symbol. 'Another 'not guilty' verdict would be an insult to the just process of law,' Mr Giampaolo says. 'We may not have all those responsible for this outrage, but we believe we have enough evidence to convict the accused. The public wants the truth on this massacre.'

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Sport
sportVan Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Life and Style
Martha Stewart wrote an opinion column for Time magazine this week titled “Why I Love My Drone”
lifeLifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot... to take photos of her farm
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
filmReview: Sometimes the immersive experience was so good it blurred the line between fiction and reality
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Environment
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
News
people
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
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

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices