Journalist outraged as police seize equipment on return from MH17 crash site

Photo: NBAAI via Dutch Safety Board
Photo: NBAAI via Dutch Safety Board

A journalist who brought back pieces of wreckage from a visit to the MH17 crash site in Ukraine has accused Dutch police who confiscated his camera and computer equipment of being needlessly heavy-handed.

Michel Spekkers was interviewed by officers when he landed at Schiphol airport on Saturday. Police claimed he refused to hand over pieces of wreckage, including fragments of bone that could be human remains, that were in his luggage. They said Spekkers tried to smuggle the items into the country by getting a companion to carry his bag through customs.

Spekkers told Omroep Brabant he had agreed to hand over all the pieces of wreckage voluntarily, with the exception of some audio files that could have been used to identify his sources. He insists he ‘never for a minute’ thought of trying to keep┬áthe items.

‘They’d asked me to hand them over to the consulate in Moscow, but I preferred to do it in the Netherlands so I knew they would end up in the right hands,’ he explained.

‘I was taken away and the conversation fairly quickly took a wrong turn, so that along with the items from MH17 that I handed over voluntarily they also confiscated all my photographic material, laptops and phones.’

Spekkers visited the site during a two-week visit to Russia and Ukraine and said pieces of debris, including human bones, were still strewn across the fields where the plane came down. He gathered up several items in a bin bag and stuffed it into his rucksack for the journey home.

The public prosecution service has said it does not plan to take any further action against Spekkers.

The journalist had earlier apologised for a tweet sent while he was travelling back from Ukraine in which he asked people what he should do with the objects he found at the site.

Relatives of the crash victims accused Spekkers of being disrespectful. ‘If possible human remains have been found they should be handed over to local mayors, not carried off in a bin bag,’ said Evert van Zijtveld, chairman of Stichting Vliegramp MH17.

The Dutch journalists’ union NVJ said Spekkers’ treatment was ‘disproportionate’. General secretary Thomas Bruning said the union would be raising the issue with the police’s internal investigation branch.

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