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Italian scientists jailed for failure to predict L’Aquila earthquake

22 October 2012

A regional court in Italy has found six scientists and one ex-government official guilty of multiple manslaughter and sentenced them to six years in prison over the 2009 deadly earthquake in L'Aquila. Prosecutors said the defendants gave a falsely reassuring statement before the 6.3 magnitude quake devastated the city and killed 309 people. 

The April 2009 earthquake killed 309
The April 2009 earthquake killed 309

The defence maintained major quakes could not be predicted.

The seven - all members of the National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks - were accused of having provided "inexact, incomplete and contradictory" information about the danger of the tremors felt ahead of 6 April 2009 quake, according to Italian media reports.

In addition to their sentences, all have been barred from ever holding public office again, La Repubblica reported.

In the closing statement, the prosecution quoted one of its witnesses, whose father died in the earthquake. It described how Guido Fioravanti had called his mother at about 11pm on the night of the earthquake - straight after the first tremor.

"I remember the fear in her voice. On other occasions they would have fled but that night, with my father, they told themselves what the risk commission had said. And they stayed."

The judge also ordered the defendants to pay court costs and damages. Lawyers have said that they will appeal against the sentence.

Those convicted are:
*Franco Barberi, head of the Serious Risks Commission
*Enzo Boschi, former president of the National Institute of Geophysics
*Giulio Selvaggi, director of the National Earthquake Centre
*Gian Michele Calvi, director of the European Centre for Earthquake Engineering
*Claudio Eva, physicist
*Mauro Dolce, director of the Civil Protection Agency's earthquake risk office
*Bernardo De Bernardinis, former vice-president of the Civil Protection Agency's technical department

One of the lawyers for the defence, Marcello Petrelli, described the sentence as "incomprehensible". The case has alarmed many in the scientific community, who feel science itself has been put on trial.

Some scientists have warned that the case might set a damaging precedent, deterring experts from sharing their knowledge with the public for fear of being targeted in lawsuits.

Earlier, more than 5,000 scientists signed an open letter to Italian President Giorgio Napolitano in support of the group in the dock.

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