German re-trial over asylum seeker bed death

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The re-trial of a German police officer charged with complicity in the death of an asylum seeker from Sierra Leone began Thursday as his family and campaigners held a vigil inside.

A federal court had one year ago thrown out the acquittal in December 2008 of the now 50-year-old defendant, identified only as Andreas S., and ordered a new trial.

Oury Jalloh, also known as Ouri Jallow, died on January 7, 2005 in Dessau police station in eastern Germany after the mattress cover on the bed he was cuffed to in a cell caught fire.

Police said that Jalloh, arrested after two women alleged he had harassed them while drunk and shackled because he was violent, set fire to the mattress cover himself with a cigarette lighter although his hands were restrained.

A subsequent probe found that he died within two minutes of smoke inhalation.

In a ruling that prompted outrage at the time, a regional court cleared the policeman in charge of the station of causing bodily harm with fatal consequences for not acting sooner after a smoke alarm had gone off.

But the federal appeal court ruled last January, on the fifth anniversary of Jalloh's death, that the regional court failed to take into account that the smoke alarm would have sounded as soon as the mattress cover caught fire.

It also said that Andreas S. should have been able to hear Jalloh's screams via the intercom system.

As he read out the charges Wednesday, state prosecutor Christian Preissner said that Andreas S. had switched off the smoke alarm twice while Jalloh was dying in his cell.

"He accepted the fact that Oury Jalloh's could be hurt," Preissner said of the defendant.

Andreas S., who declined to address the court Wednesday, issued a statement before the trial in which he said that he was not guilty and was unable to prevent Jalloh's death.

Gabriele Heinecke, a lawyer representing Jalloh's brother and mother, who are co-plaintiffs in the case, demanded a search for truth "without taboos" in the new trial, including an investigation into whether someone else had set the mattress alight.

Meanwhile outside the court, Eddie Bruce-Jones of the Oury Jalloh Independent Commission on Police Brutality and Due Process in Germany, who travelled from London to follow the trial, called on authorities to shed more light on the case.

"The police need to stop stonewalling," he said.

© 2011 AFP

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