Greece convicts six and clears 15 over deadly blaze, victims’ families protest

By Thomson Reuters Apr 29, 2024 | 6:16 AM

ATHENS (Reuters) – A man was convicted of involuntary arson on Monday for his role in Greece’s deadliest wildfire in memory, and five former fire officials found guilty of misdemeanours linked to their response to the 2018 blaze, judicial sources said.

As the court announced the convictions – and the acquittal of 15 others including regional governors on the misdemeanour charges including involuntary manslaughter – relatives of the victims shouted “shame”, one of their lawyers said

Family members burst into tears after the acquittals, and some said the sentences for the misdemeanours – which all had jail terms but with the alternative of a fine – were too lenient, a spokesman for the relatives told Reuters.

A total of 104 people were killed in the fire in the seaside town of Mati in July 2018, many of them as the tried to escape through a maze of streets.

Survivors accused authorities at the time of failing to coordinate rescue operations and reacting too slowly.

The government and local authorities dismissed the accusations, blamed arsonists and said high winds and fierce flames had meant there was no time for coordinated action.

The five former fire officials were found guilty of misdemeanour charges including involuntary manslaughter, according to state TV ERT and the Athens News Agency.

They were each sentenced to up to five years in prison with the alternative of a roughly 40,000-euro ($42,900) fine, lawyer Alexandros Papasteriopoulos said.

The 15 acquitted officials had been charged with similar misdemeanours. Greek law bars the publication of their names.

One Greek man was sentenced to three years for the misdemeanour of involuntary arson, also with the alternative of a fine.

All defendants on Monday had denied any wrongdoing.

Mati, a heavily wooded area overlooking the sea east of Athens, was popular with pensioners and children at summer camps.

Countries on the Mediterranean have suffered a series of devastating wildfires in recent years amid hotter and drier weather that scientists have linked to climate change.

Relatives plan to appeal against the court ruling, Yannis Karagkounis, a lawyer representing the family of one of the victims told Reuters

“We are saddened by the outcome but we won’t stop fighting,” he added.

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(Reporting by Renee Maltezou; Editing by Andrew Heavens)