HEALTH & SAFETY
Live events sector
A German court has ruled that the 10 people charged in connection with the deaths of 21 and injury of over 500 at the final Love Parade festival have “no case to answer”.
The Festival, which began in 1989 as a Berlin-based free event, began travelling to different German cities each year in 2007, and was taking place in Duisburg in 2010. The event was always well attended, and though turnouts had fallen in the years prior to 2010, it was estimated by investigators that almost half a million people had attended that year on the site on a former freight rail yard. The site’s capacity, however, was 250,000 and despite the large number of people attending, crowds entering were funnelled through a single underpass (pictured), which quickly became crowded on the Saturday morning of the event – there was a surge in the crowd, which caused panic in the tunnel -followed by a stampede.
In 2014 six of the event’s organisers and four city workers were charged with negligent manslaughter and bodily harm. On conviction they faced up to five years in prison. All denied any wrongdoing. Earlier six people had been told proceedings against them had been dropped after the investigation by the state of North Rhine-Westphalia for lack of evidence. The then mayor of Duisburg, Adolf Sauerland, was forced to step down after a 2012 city referendum, accused of having ignored warnings that the venue was too small. Organisers faced criticism at the time in media reports suggesting that officials and organisers did not heed warnings that there would be problems with such a massive crowd.
But now a German court has dismissed criminal charges. The decision by the regional court in the western city of Duisburg now halts efforts to prosecute those who planned the event over its chaotic crowd management.
“The state’s accusations could not be proved with the evidence presented,” the court said in a terse statement after dismissing the charges against six city officials and four Love Parade organisers. “Hence a conviction of the accused could not be expected.” At a press conference Presiding Judge Ulf-Thomas Bender placed the blame for the case’s collapse on major failings in an expert report that was to serve as the main basis of the prosecution’s case during the trial: Judge Bender angrily denounced the evaluation by British crowd disaster expert Keith Still as flawed, biased and contradictory, saying it had little chance of holding up in court: “Although the court posed 75 follow-up questions, the questions remained unanswered and gaps in the report were not rectified,” Bender said.
Prosecutors said they would appeal the ruling, as lawyers representing survivors of the stampede and victims’ families blasted the decision. Attorney Baerbel Schoenhof told reporters it amounted to a “slap in the face” for the “extremely traumatised” people at the parade that day. Julius Reiter, who is representing around 100 co-plaintiffs, called the dismissal a “judicial scandal” adding that “they [the victims’ families] have been fobbed off for years with the statement that thoroughness comes before speed”.
Twelve civil lawsuits are still pending and expected to be heard from next month.
After the tragedy organisers said that the Love Parade would never be held again “out of respect for the victims”.