Supreme Court orders Schiphol fire retrial

14th December 2010, Comments 0 comments


The Supreme Court has ordered a retrial in the case of a Libyan national convicted of starting a fire that in 2005 killed 11 would-be immigrants in a detention facility near Amsterdam's Schiphol airport. The retrial will be conducted at a court in The Hague.

Ahmed al-J. surname withheld was convicted by an Amsterdam appellate court which found him guilty of starting the fire by throwing away a cigarette in his cell.

The Supreme Court has quashed the conviction because the Amsterdam court rejected a request by the defence to appoint an expert witness. The expert was to comment on the statistical chance that a cigarette could have started the fire. The Supreme Court argues that the answer to that question could be relevant to determine whether the man started the fire on purpose.

In 2009, the Amsterdam court had ruled that the man was not responsible for the fatal consequences of the fire and sentenced him to 18 months in prison, which he had already spent in pre-trial detention. Two weeks after the verdict, he was expelled from the country. In 2006, a court in Haarlem had sentenced him to three years in jail for starting the fire deliberately.

Ahmed al-J. has always maintained he did not start the fire on purpose. The fire in his cell in the detention facility began after he threw a cigarette butt. The man says he thought the cicarette was extinguished and woke up by the fire after he had fallen asleep.

Immediately after the fire, an inquiry was launched into fire safety at the Schiphol detention centre. The report sharply criticised several official bodies, including the prison authorities, the housing ministry and the municipality of Haarlemmermeer. The report accused them of neglecting security and fire safety.

The report's findings caused commotion in both the media and the government. In response to the criticism, Justice Minister Piet hein Donner and Housing Minister Sybilla Dekker resigned in 2006.

© Radio Netherlands Worldwide

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