CEO behind Enschede fireworks disaster does not "feel guilty"

Enschede fireworks disaster - May 2000 (Picture: Wikimedia Commons/Bartflikweet)Enschede fireworks disaster - May 2000 (Picture: Wikimedia Commons/Bartflikweet)

Willie Pater, co-director of SE Fireworks, told his story for the first time to ED on Wednesday - 15 years after the fireworks disaster in Enschede that left 23 people dead, nearly a thousand injured and a whole neighborhood wiped off the map. He no longer feels guilty, he told the newspaper.

Willie Pater, 63, and his wife Marion, 48, spoke to ED on the 15th anniversary of the explosion at his firework factory on May 13th, 2000. Both directors of the fireworks company, Willie and Rudi Bakker, were arrested after the explosion and both were sentenced to a year in prison. Bakker has told his story many a time, often blaming Pater for the disaster, but Willie has never said a word, until now.

"Whatever you say, it is always wrong Defending yourself feels bad in front of all those victims.. I don't want to add to their suffering." Willie said to ED, explaining why he never gave any interviews. "As co-owner of the company I feel responsible. But not guilty. The fire, the disaster... it happned to me too."

The court in Almelo convicted the directors of environmental abuse and trafficking, but did not blame them for the disaster. But on appeal in May 2003 both were sentenced to one year in jail, the sentence including liability resulting in death. Unlike his partner, Pater served his sentence without any further resistance. "I wanted to leave it behind me, get all the suffering behind me at once. Also for the victims."

Bakker on the other hand turned to the Supreme Court, then to the European Court, both in vain. Bakker is still crusading against what he sees as a "miscarriage of justice", ED reports. He blames the government, or firefighters, but mostly he blames Pater and some other staff members. According to him, they went to work that Saturday, behind his back, and lit some fireworks. There is no evidence to support this, but the story does seem to have more and more followers, including two former detectives that investigated the disaster.

Marion wrote an open letter that she has asked a friend to publish on Facebook after her death, she is suffering from cancer and has only a 20 percent chance of surviving. She read a part of the letter to ED. "What have you done? Caused social unrest, put victims on the wrong track, flagrantly abused people and used gutter journalism" the letter states. "After years of hearing them I am done with our lies and insinuations. Not a day goes by that the victims do not cross my mind, and that I hope that what happened becomes known. That is the least that they deserve. And when that day comes, you will go crawling through the dust for all those years that you have falsely accused us." Willie agrees. "We did not work that Saturday", he said. "We would have said something", Marion chimed in. "How else could you look the children and grandchildren in the eye".