L’Aquila: scientists found guilty of manslaughter
Uproar as officials sentenced to six years in jail for failing to correctly predict the scale of the earthquake
By Ermanno Rivetti. Web only
Published online: 25 October 2012
The international scientific community is up in arms after six Italian scientists and one government official were found guilty of manslaughter on 22 October for failing to correctly assess the risks posed by the earthquake that ravaged the town of L’Aquila and killed more than 300 people on 6 April 2009. The prosecution had asked for a four-year sentence for each of the defendants, but instead the judge gave them six years each for reasons that have yet to be disclosed. The judge also ruled that the defendants are to pay €7.8m in damages as well as their legal expenses.
The seven men were part of a Major Risks Committee which met six days before the earthquake, after a number of small tremors were felt in the region, and concluded that residents could remain in their homes as it was impossible to accurately determine the possibility of a larger earthquake happening.
The defendants are Franco Barberi, the head of the Serious Risks Commission, Enzo Boschi, the former president of the National Institute of Geophysics, Giulio Selvaggi, the director of the National Earthquake Centre, Gian Michele Calvi, the director of the European Centre for Earthquake Engineering, Claudio Eva, a physicist, Mauro Dolce, the director of the Italian Civil Protection Agency’s earthquake risk office, and Bernardo De Bernardinis, the former vice-president of the Civil Protection Agency’s technical department.
Families of the victims welcomed the sentence, but members of the scientific community have largely spoken out against the ruling. Professor Robert Holdsworth from the department of Earth sciences at Durham University, says “you cannot hold the scientists responsible for the forces of nature” and that “earthquakes in Italy are frequent and occasionally devastating, but predicting where and when they will occur is extremely difficult”. Holdsworth believes this ruling sets a dangerous precedent that will “drive a serious wedge between scientists and the wider community”.
The defence lawyers too have condemned the ruling, among them Alessandra Stefano, who spoke to the Italian press straight after the sentencing: “We’ll have to wait and see the motivation for this decision.” Under Italian law, the seven are still allowed to exercise two rights to appeal before their sentences are enforced, and therefore remain free at the moment.
The ruling has come as a surprise to many, especially in the face of years of broken government promises and missing grants to rebuild the historic city centre and find adequate housing for thousands of displaced residents. The Italian government announced only last month that it had prepared a fund of €525m, to be devolved in three-year instalments until 2021, to restore the town’s many buildings and monuments.
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