Viareggio - Wearing a T-shirt printed with the photo of her smiling daughter Emanuela, Daniela Rombi could hardly stand up from the strain; her husband is gently stroking her head. Those sitting in nearby benches are holding hands. Some attendees have their eyes shut for one last prayer. As silence permeates the court, head prosecutor Gerardo Boragine delivers the court’s verdict.
The reading of this provisional sentencing over responsibility for the “Viareggio Massacre”, Italy’s deadliest rail accident, in which the Italian people stand as plaintiffs, took place on a sombre afternoon, this Tuesday, with the court proceedings held in the premises of an exhibition centre, due to the huge number of people in attendance.
The judge delivered 23 sentences, including a seven-year conviction for ex-CEO of Italy’s state railways (FS), Mauro Moretti, and a similar sentence for another top rail executive, Michele Mario Elia, who worked at FS rail infrastructure subsidiary company, RFI. In a deafening silence, with everyone holding their breath, relatives of the victims tried to take in the verdict, some still looking somewhat bewildered. The reading of the verdicts lasted six minutes.
The bench explained the charges stemming from responsibility for a gas-train derailment that caused the death of 32 people, many of whom were caught in their homes by the subsequent explosion, which occurred the night of June 29 2009, as the train was leaving Viareggio station.
The judge’s assessment that the accident was not an act of God, is clear from the fact that rail executives have been deemed guilty, however the sentences that have been passed reflect some degree of leniency; a seven-year sentence, rather than the sixteen years the prosecutors had demanded. Mr. Moretti’s charges were upheld in his capacity as former RFI CEO, but he was acquitted of charges stemming from his later work as CEO of FS. “He’s being held accountable for what he could have done to prevent the massacre but did not,” Enrico Marzaturi, the plaintiff’s counsel attempted to explain. He was addressing the victims’ families who looked bewildered, uncertain of what to make of the judge’s statement. “It’s a ruling that has passed blame not just on lower-ranking employees, those who ultimately made the mistakes; those at the highest levels have also been blamed. Mr. Moretti was found responsible for failing to consider issues such as train speed in the station, rail switches and protective barriers along the tracks. Despite your pain, for which no compensation is sufficient, it’s been a just outcome.”
On the opposite side of the courtroom, Moretti’s lawyer, Armando D’Apote, disagreed with the verdict which he described as “a scandalous outcome, and I draw attention to the results of populism that ooze from the sentence.” Is popular or populist justice being served? Outside it was pouring. Relatives of the victims began dismantling the banners they had hung. There was hot coffee and slices of cake being served, prepared in expectation of a protracted proceeding. The hearing began at 10 am, with verdicts coming after a five-hour deliberation, seven years and seven months since the deadly accident. “I don’t know what to think,” said Mrs. Rombi, as she was aided on her feet to exit the courtroom.” “There’s been an acknowledgement of responsibility, yes. Like we had maintained all along.” The entire proceedings took place in an atmosphere of restraint. No shouts, nor applause. And indeed, whenever someone outside began intoning chants, they were stopped by the families of the victims. The only awkward moment came following a wrong question.
At one point, Mrs. Rombi’s other daughter, Valentina, a girl with curly black hair, employed at Ikea, stood up and replied: “But what feeling? ... We’ve lost every one, forever! This is a photo of my sister Emanuela in her last days at the severe burn injuries hospital, before she died.” In total seven companies also received sentences, but not all those that were on trial.
That’s why now FS may declare, through its press office chief Stefano Biserti: “We take note of the acquittal of our parent company and of FS Logistica, although we maintain the innocence of the other companies and individuals tried today. Our rail group reiterates condolences for the victims, our thoughts are with the families and with all those affected by this tragic accident.” Daniela Farnocchia was wearing a T-shirt with an image of her brother Alessandro, who perished in the explosion, “This verdict seems to me a bit like an attempt to keep us pacified. They devised it to keep us quiet. But on appeal the convictions will be reduced, and no one will serve even a day in prison. That’s what’s going to happen.” It was supposed to be a special day, a chance for many to face the future. Caterina Pulzello lived by the site of the explosion: “I saw my neighbours die. My partner became 47% disabled. I think this sentence is a joke, because it’s easy to see what will happen. In a civilized country such charges would not be allowed to time out.”