MH17 investigator in hot water; released secret, graphic details
A member of the MH17 victims identification team, forensic anthropologist and paleopathologist George Maat, revealed graphic photos and confidential details while giving a lecture on the identification process on Wednesday. The lecture was open to anyone interested, and has sparked outraged comments from all sides.
Maat, who is a professor at Leiden University Medical Center, used photographs to describe the identification process step by step, reports RTL, which made an audio recording of the lecture. The photos included images of the freezer containers where the body bags are stored, CT scans of body bags containing human remains and several photographs showing mutilated bodies and body parts. "I'm expressly showing you intact bodies as much as possible, to, well, not make it too difficult for you," he said during the lecture.
"And on the bottom two, you see a hip joint, namely the head of the femur, and we actually cut it open to get a swab through, but what do you see? That the knife shows too, here and there a white line running through the head," he said showing a picture of a hip joint. He then asked the audience if they know what the white line means and answered. "It's a growth plate and epiphyseal, and that means, I have nothing else of that person, but I already know that this is a child."
Maat also talked about the attack and the crash itself. He stated that apart from the identification, his team also gathers evidence for the criminal section to identify and prosecute the culprits.
"And part of that evidence, yes, still comes from our tables, also because the plane was shot down, not because a bullet was shot through it, like laymen often think, but because a rocket was shot at it and exploded nearby," he said. "It is completely not about hitting the plane, but only about detonating something in the area so violently that the plane is disabled and thus falls down. And that actually means that everybody is still in that plane after the explosion. That because of the explosion you find that all kinds of metal particles pass through the weak aluminum hull and end up in the people, but it is not that the plane fell apart, high in the air."
Minister of Security and Justice Ard van der Steur called Maat's behavior "extremely inappropriate and distasteful." He is now finding out exactly what happened, with plans to inform the Tweede Kamer, lower house of parliament, in a planned debate concerning MH17 on Thursday.
The Ministry of Security and Justice would not comment on Maat's statements as it forms part of the ongoing criminal investigation.
Arie de Bruijn, the head of the National Forensic Investigation Team, distanced himself from Maat's actions. "We deeply regret that relatives have been hurt by this," he stated on the police's website. Maat works for the team as an external expert. The team has agreements with external experts about sharing information with third parties. They are allowed to share information about professional issues with colleagues from a professional perspective, but definitely not allowed to comment on matters beyond their own expertise. "That Professor Maat, during a lecture to students of medical and forensic sciences, made statements about the investigation into MH17 that are speculative, incorrect and partly even beyond his area of expertise, is very serious," the police write on the website.
The relatives of the victims are reportedly furious about the lecture. The management of Stichting Vliergramp MH17, established to represent the collective interests of the survivors, told RTL News that they found the report on the lecture "very shocking," and that they have received many furious responses from members. "The report caused tremendous grief among relatives. It is unacceptable that statements and images of victims were communicated. The Stichting Vliegramp MH17 expects from the Rijksoverheid [the central government] that appropriate measures be taken."
Maat has since apologized. In a reaction he said: "In the past, I have given a number of lectures on the identification process around MH17. These were meant for students of the medical and forensic sciences, but eventually also visited by others. I did not realize that. I have also made statements in these lectures on matters that do not belong to my field. I should not have done that. It now appears that some of these statements are factually incorrect." He regrets that he possibly hurt or unnecessarily aggrieved the relatives of the victims. "That was never my intention. Over the past few months I have used all my work, knowledge and experience for relatives to come to an identification of their loved ones," he said.