Tuesday 07 February 2023

Police urged to reopen investigation into Enschede fireworks blaze

A plume of smoke over Enschede during the fireworks disaster on May 13, 2000.

Photo: Bartflikweert via Wikipedia

Former MEP Paul van Buitenen has called for the investigation into the fatal fireworks explosion in Enschede 19 years ago to be reopened and charges to be brought against the police and local council.

Van Buitenen wants 22 organisations, including the prosecution service and government ministries, as well as a number of individuals to be held to account for their role in the disaster, in which 23 people died and 2000 homes were damaged or destroyed.

He filed an official complaint with police in Enschede on Monday morning together with Rudi Bakker, former director of SE Fireworks, the company that owned the storage depot, former detective Jan Paalman and Mathilde van de Molen. Her husband Hans was one of four firefighters who were killed while tackling the blaze.

Bakker and his fellow company director Willie Pater were sentenced to six months in prison, increased to a year on appeal, for breaching environmental regulations and illegally trading fireworks. However, they were acquitted of negligence in respect of the fire. A 36-year-old man, André de Vries, was jailed in 2002 for starting the fire but acquitted by appeal court judges a year later.

Structural flaws

Van Buitenen said he had come to the conclusion that serious structural flaws contributed to the explosion on May 13, 2000, after studying dozens of public and confidential documents. He claimed that inadequate storage regulations, safety precautions and explosives being wrongly classified were the real cause of the disaster. ‘Even though the government knew better after an earlier fireworks explosion in Culemborg,’ Van Buitenen added.

He said the official investigation was designed from the outset to protect government institutions from blame. ‘Two days after the disaster the minister for foreign affairs said in a letter that it was the result of an arsonist and mistakes at the company.

‘All government institutions and organisations proceeded to submit themselves to that vision. That is why the prosecution service worked systematically in its criminal investigation towards the desired conclusion,’ he wrote.

Van Buitenen said that if police and prosecutors declined to reopen the case, he would launch an ‘Article 12’ procedure. The process allows parties in a case to appeal directly to a court to overrule the prosecution service’s decision on whether to bring a case. Private prosecutions are not possible under Dutch law.

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