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Portuguese state ordered to pay 13,000 euros to family of victim for “ineffective” investigation into drowned students’ case

meco tragedyThe European Court of Human Rights has ordered the Portuguese state to pay a compensation sum of 13,000 euros to José Carlos Soares Campos, father of Tiago Santos, one of the six victims of the Meco tragedy. The 21-year-old died during a student event on Meco beach.

The Meco tragedy involved the death of six out of seven university students who were playing in the sea in the middle night, wearing traditional university gowns. None of the students had their mobile phones with them during the party, except for the young man who survived, which has led many to question his involvement in their deaths.

According to the court, the investigation was “ineffective”. In addition, the forensic analysis carried out during the investigation was heavily scrutinised. José Carlos Soares Campos claimed that the death of his son was caused by the absence of a proper legal framework “warning of this type of activity.”

The European Court held that the criminal investigation was not sufficient to meet the requirements of Article 2 – the right to life – of the European Convention on Human Rights and that action could have been taken soon after the tragedy. The court further considers that although the investigation was “ineffective”, the legal framework was sufficient and therefore it cannot be said that the State failed to secure Article 2 of the convention. The Court also held that access to the house where the victims were staying should have been restricted to persons unrelated to the case.

However, the Court of Human Rights considered that several points of the investigation should have been carried out as soon as possible after the Meco tragedy (December 2013), such as an investigation into João Gouveia, the only person who survived the incident, collection of clothes and computers, reconstruction of the events, and the testimony of the neighbours and guardians of the house where the victims were staying.

As the investigation only began a month after the tragedy, the European Court of Human Rights found that the criminal investigation into the death of Tiago Campos did not meet the requirements regarding the protection of the right to life in Article 2. As such, the Court considered that “there was a violation in that regard”.

Tiago Santos’ father claimed that his son’s death had been caused by the “lack of a legal structure” to regulate the usual activities in Portuguese universities. The Court responded by saying that although the practice was not prohibited, any abuse that occurs in this context should be punishable by law.

According to the ruling published on the website of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), in addition to the 13,000 euros in damages, the Portuguese State will have to cover more than 7,000 euros in costs.

It all happened on the night of December 14, 2013 when seven students were caught in a big wave at Meco. Only one (João Gouveia) managed to return to the beach and survive.

Tiago Campos’s body was found the day after the tragedy, and a criminal investigation was later opened to determine the circumstances of the tragedy.

A wooden spoon was found in the accommodation where the students were staying that symbolizes the traditional student acitivities involved with “Praxe”. The parents of the students who died filed a complaint against João Gouveia for negligent homicide and putting the lives of others at risk.