Italian scientists and one official jailed for six years for failing to predict 2009 earthquake that killed 300
An Italian court has today convicted six scientists and a government official of manslaughter for failing to give adequate warning of the deadly earthquake in 2009.
The city of L’Aquila was decimated by the killer quake, which measured more than 6.3 on the Richter Scale and killed more than 300 people.
Now the group of seven, all members of an official body called the National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks, have been found guilty of negligence and malpractice in their evaluation of the danger of an earthquake and their duty to keep the city informed of the risks.
A packed courtroom listens as the guilty verdicts are delivered in the trial of six Italian scientists and a government official charged with manslaughter for underestimating the risks of the 2009 earthquake
Verdict: Bernardo De Bernardinis (above) who in 2009 was deputy chief of Italy’s Civil Protection Department, and Mauro Dolce (down), who was director of the office of seismic risk at the Civil Protection Department, were both found guilty in a trial that has seen widespread condemnation from the scientific community
The case has drawn wide condemnation from international bodies including the American Geophysical Union, which said the risk of litigation may deter scientists from advising governments or even working to assess seismic risk.
A 6.3 strength earthquake struck L’Aquila, in Italy’s Abruzzo region at 3.32 a.m. on April 6, 2009, wrecking tens of thousands of buildings, injuring more than 1,000 people and killing hundreds of others in their sleep.
At the heart of the case was whether the government-appointed experts gave an overly reassuring picture of the risks facing the town, which contained many ancient and fragile buildings and which had been partially destroyed three times by earthquakes over the centuries.
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The case was watched closely by seismologists around the world who insist it’s impossible to predict earthquakes and that no major temblor has ever been foretold.
Last year, about 5,200 international researchers signed a petition supporting their Italian colleagues and the Seismological Society of America wrote to Italy’s president expressing concern about what it called an unprecedented legal attack on science.
But prosecutors focused on a memo issued after a March 31, 2009 meeting of the Great Risks commission which was called because of mounting concerns about the months of seismic activity in the region.
According to the commission’s memo – issued one week before the big quake – the experts concluded that it was ‘improbable’ that there would be a major quake though it added that one couldn’t be excluded.
In 2011, a spokesman for the U.S. Geological Society told FoxNews.com that the investigation ‘has a medieval flavour to it – like witches are being put on trial.’
Despite the difficulty in predicting earthquakes, Boschi had warned – prior to the 2009 disaster – that a large earthquake would hit Italy but that he didn’t know when, his lawyer said.
Widespread damage: Bodies were still deing discovered three days after the devastating earthquake which hit the medieval mountain city and its province
Speaking today, Dr David Rothery, senior lecturer in Earth Sciences, Open University, said:’I hope they will appeal. Earthquakes are inherently unpredictable.
‘The best estimate at the time was that the low level seismicity was not likely to herald a bigger quake, but there are no certainties in this game.’
Prof Malcolm Sperrin, director of Medical Physics, Royal Berkshire Hospital, Reading, said: ‘Assuming that negligence and malpractice are not factors here then the prosecution, and now sentences, of the Italian seismologists comes as a considerable surprise.
‘In seismology, as with many other branches of the pure and applied sciences, opinions are derived from observables and the application of experience and training.
‘It is never the case that predictions are completely without uncertainty and any scientist will make this clear as well as an estimation of how accurate such predictions are.
‘If the scientific community is to be penalised for making predictions that turn out to be incorrect, or for not accurately predicting an event that subsequently occurs, then scientific endeavour will be restricted to certainties only and the benefits that are associated with findings from medicine to physics will be stalled.
‘It is worth pointing out that many of the valuable contributions made by scientists such as penicillin, radiobiology etc have stemmed from the enquiring mind rather than absolute certainty of success.’
the old tower of Finale Emilia was nearly totally destroyed by the quake – and a later aftershock then destroyed the building
Further damage: An aftershock hours later then destroyed the rest of the church tower
Santa Maria di Collemaggio’s Basilica, in L’Aquila, Italy, pictured two days after the earthquake hit the region
The quake’s focal point was 22 miles northwest of Bologna, at a relatively shallow depth of 6.3 miles.
The earthquake – along with around 250 aftershocks – caused an estimated 10billion euros of damage within 48 hours.
The case focused in particular on a series of low-level tremors which hit the region in the months preceding the earthquake and which prosecutors said should have warned experts not to underestimate the risk of a major shock.
The scientists are unlikely to be sent to jail pending a probable appeal trial.