A major negligence trial has begun in Germany re-examining the 2010 "Love Parade" disaster that cost 21 lives in a crush at a techno festival. Facing criminal charges are six Duisburg city employees and four organizers.
The criminal law trial before the Regional Court in the western German city of Duisburg — transferred for space reasons to a Dusseldorf trade fair congress hall — began Friday, with 111 days of proceedings scheduled through late 2018.
Facing charges of negligence resulting in wrongful death and wrongful injury are 10 persons – six employed at the time by the Duisburg city council and four by the event organizer Lopavent.
Those killed, aged between 17 and 38 years, were among hundreds of thousands of partygoers who converged on Duisburg's former rail freight and shunting yards on July 24, 2010, via an overcrowded tunnel. A further 652 people were injured, many with memories of traumatic moments.
Case dropped, reopened
Last April, Dusseldorf's Higher Regional Court overruled judges who dropped the case in Duisburg and ordered that the criminal trial proceed before Duisburg's top panel - comprising three judges and two jurors.
In total, 70 lawyers are involved – 32 representing defendants and 38 representing 65 joint plaintiffs, mainly relatives of the young people killed while funneled towards and through a 400-meter-long (1300-foot-long) tunnel in Duisburg's former rail yards.
Duisburg prosecutors, whose charge sheet spans 556 pages, allege that severe mistakes were made in planning and authorizing the festival and that safety measures were insufficient.
Defense attorneys argue that acquittals are possible because a number of factors led to the catastrophe.
If convicted, the maximum sentence would be five years' imprisonment.
The trial ranks as one of the largest in postwar Germany.
Procedural wrangles dominated Friday's opening hours. By noon, local time, some 50 of the 250 seats reserved for observers were filled.
2020 expiry deadline
To reach verdicts, trial participants face a deadline of July 2020, when a 10-year statute of limitations will lead to the charges' expiry.
Not charged but expected to testify, according to prosecutors, is Adolf Sauerland, Duisburg's former conservative mayor, and business executive Rainer Schaller, whose subsidiary Lopavent held the rights to the "Love Parade," which began in Berlin back in 1989.
The city of Duisburg, although heavily in debt, went ahead with the "Love Parade" in 2010 as part of "Ruhr2010," a year-long program to promote the Ruhr District, a declining coal-mining and steel region seeking to reposition itself economically in Germany's most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia.
ipj, ls/ng (dpa, AFP)