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The trial for the 2018 fatal fire in Athens suburb begins today

Featured The trial for the 2018 fatal fire in Athens suburb begins today

The events of July 2018 during the deadly fire in Mati, which broke out shortly after five in the afternoon when an elderly man started a fire to burn dry grasses in his field in the Dau area that got out of control, are being revived this morning before the 6th Tribunal Criminal Court of Penteli.

Strong winds were blowing in the area, with the result that in the next two hours the fire descended from the slopes of Mount Penteli, burned everything in its path until it reached the sea. After 6 pm, the fire for clearing the field had turned into a tragedy, while in the following hours "the fire in Mati" had already been ranked as one of the deadliest in the world.

Today, four years later, the Tribunal Court is called to try 21 defendants, then responsible for services and institutions, for the responsibilities attributed to them for the event and what was not done before, during and after the fire that left behind 102 dead, dozens injured and massive destruction.

The former regional governor of Attica Rena Dourou, the then mayors of the region, the former general secretary of Civil Protection and officers of the Service, high-ranking officers of the Fire Department and emergency responders-EMAK, as well as the private person who caused the start of the fire, who is accused, will sit in the docket for arson by negligence.

The defendants will be tried on a case-by-case basis for the offenses of serial negligent homicide by omission by obligees and non-obligees, as well as serial bodily harm by omission.

Victims of the deadly fire, people who lost loved ones, who were seriously injured themselves or members of their families, some of them with serious problems from the burns they suffered, will also appear in court. People who for a number of years have been trying to regain their lives and who expect justice to find if and who are responsible for what happened, for the losses, for their long suffering, for each of the tragedies that make up what is collectively called the "Mati tragedy".

A multi-month investigation was conducted for the case, at the end of which the Investigator requested the upgrading of the charge to a felony for certain defendants. This position was adopted by the members of the Council of Misdemeanors with a resolution they issued. The matter was decided definitively by the Appeals Council which, adopting a similar prosecutorial proposal, rejected the upgrade to a felony and issued last June a decision that orders 21 of the 23 defendants to be tried for misdemeanors. The appellants acquitted three accused police officers who had been charged, finding that they had given sufficient explanations for their actions.

The defendants are facing an indictment, which, based on the responsibilities they had at the time in question, imputes unpreparedness, wrong assessments of the danger of the situation, failure to intervene immediately using any means to deal with the fire when it started, delayed mobilization both at the level of prevention and at the level of reducing the consequences of the great fire with the timely evacuation of settlements and the declaration of the area in a state of emergency to rescue citizens in need. Heeps of evidence collected during the investigation and which will be studied by the court, show a picture of chaos and confusion that prevailed in the critical hours before the intervention of the services that had the responsibility to coordinate the situation in order to limit the consequences of the fire.

The defendants and the hosting of the trial

The case of the fatal fire in Mati is another multi-person trial the conduct of which requires courtrooms with special specifications that Athens, the largest judicial district of the country, does not have.

The trial with the 21 defendants concerns 102 victims of negligent homicide and 32 victims of negligent physical injury. 213 persons have been called as prosecution witnesses, while dozens of witnesses will be called by the accused to defend them. To these numbers should be added the advocates of the victims and the accused, as well as the journalists who will cover the trial. Space is also required for the case file, which includes tens of thousands of pages of documents and other material that take up a whole room.

For hosting the trial, the proposal of the new Administration of the Court of First Instance was rejected by the Ministry of Justice in order to make available the Ceremonial Hall of the Court of Appeals as the project was deemed "difficult", due to the Golden Dawn trial being held there. Thus, a room was allocated at the courts of the former Evelpidon military cadet school (building 9 room 12) for the start of the trial, particularly small for the size of the trial. "Provisions will be made to facilitate as much as possible the access of all the actors of the trial to the above room", said the president of the Tripartite Division of the Court of First Instance Christoforos Linos in a related announcement. Mr. Linos said that the next meetings of the court will be held "in room 3 of building 13 of the Former Evelpidon School, which within the current week will have been properly arranged, with the addition of additional seating for the advocates, seats for the witnesses, as well as microphones". At the same time, the Court of First Instance will already today have placed the case file in an area adjacent to the hall of building 13, where the trial will be transferred in the coming days.

Once the trial begins, it is expected to last for several months with the statute of limitations (2026) drawing ever closer.