Dutch expert fired after showing MH17 victim photos

23rd April 2015, Comments 0 comments

A Dutch expert helping to identify victims from last year's MH17 airliner crash in Ukraine has been fired after showing photographs of the dead at a public lecture, the government said Thursday.

"The collaboration with George Maat has been terminated," Justice Minister Ard van der Steur told lawmakers in parliament.

The minister had earlier described the lecture given by Maat, an anthropologist at Leiden University, in the southern city of Maastricht as "completely inappropriate and in bad taste".

Journalists from private television channel RTL Nieuws attended and first reported on the lecture, which was organised by a medical students association, during which Maat showed photos of victims' body parts and explained elements of the identification process.

Thomas Aling, a spokesman for the Dutch national forensics investigation team LTFO, told AFP earlier Thursday that Maat had been suspended from his work while further action against him was being considered.

"Apparently he showed photos that cannot be shown at a public meeting," Aling said.

Maatis also accused of making comments outside his realm of expertise, notably about the causes of the crash, which were "incorrect", Aling said.

All 298 passengers and crew onboard the Malaysia Airlines jetliner -- most of them Dutch -- died when it was shot down at high altitude over rebel-held eastern Ukraine in July last year.

The lecture was given early April to an audience of around 150 people and showing the photos would have been allowed for educational purposes if the general public were not allowed in.

A Facebook page advertising the lecture clearly said that it was open to the public.

The deputy head of the MH17 Air Disaster Association, Evert van Zijtveld, told AFP that showing the photos was "shameful and very shocking for victims' relatives, this adds to the grief".

Maat said he thought the lecture was restricted to medical students.

"It appears that other people were there, I hadn't realised," he said in a statement released by the police.

"I'm very sorry to have hurt or distressed victims' loved ones."

Kiev and the West claim that the plane was shot down by the separatists using a BUK surface-to-air missile supplied by Russia. Moscow denies the charges, pointing the finger at Kiev.

The Netherlands has been charged with leading the investigation into the cause of the incident and identifying the victims of the flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

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© 2015 AFP

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