Authorities deliberately made mistakes in fireworks disaster investigation: report

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

The Dutch authorities made multiple mistakes while investigating the fireworks disaster at SE Fireworks in Enschede on May 13th, 2000, according to the results of a four year long investigation by former MEP Paul van Buitenen. The Public Prosecutor deliberately misled the judiciary to make sure that the criminal investigation had only one conclusion - that the government was not to blame, Van Buitenen concluded, NOS reports.

Van Buitenen spent four years investigating the way in which the Public Prosecutor, the police and the fire brigade functioned during and after the disaster. His report, consisting of over 800 pages, was presented in The Hague on Wednesday. 

The explosion at SE Fireworks in the Enschede district of Roombeek cost the lives of 23 people in May 2000. A total of 950 people were injured and a large part of the neighborhood was destroyed. The cause of the fire that preceded the explosion was never determined, according to the broadcaster.

The blame for the disaster was placed on three individuals - the two directors of SE Fireworks, and Andre de Vries, who was suspected of starting the fire. De Vries was eventually acquitted. The two directors were convicted of, among other things, death through negligence. 

Among other things, Van Buitenen concluded that the fire brigade fought the fire in violation of the regulations and the hazard statements, which may have contributed to the massive explosion. The investigation shows that SE Fireworks did not have too heavy fireworks in the factory, as the court concluded. According to Van Buitenen, the classification of heavy and light fireworks the government held to was incorrect. The Rijksrecherche, the department that handles internal investigations at government services, also deliberately omitted a number of statements from the investigation into the disaster.

Based on these conclusions Rudi Bakker, one of the two SE Fireworks directors, submitted a request to the Supreme Court that this case be reviewed. Bakker was sentenced to one year in prison on appeal in 2003 for, among other things, death through negligence. According to Bakker and his lawyer John Peters, the evidence submitted by Van Buitenen contains sufficient new insights for the case to be reviewed. Two previous attempts for a review by the Supreme Court failed. 

SP, SGP and 50Plus parliamentarians want Van Buitenen to come and explain his findings in the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of Dutch parliament, Tubantia reports. Kees van der Staaij (SGP), Ronald van Raak (SP) and Henk Krol (50Plus) want to discuss the report with the parliamentary committee for justice and security. "We have to do something with this. If only half of it is true, we have a problem", Van der Staaij said to the newspaper. 

When presenting his report, Van Buitenen said that he also didn't initially believe that the investigation into the disaster had so many issues. "But I was shocked." The turning point for him came when he got hold of secret conversation reports from police officers. This investigation was based on numerous documents, emails, notes, the complete criminal file and interviews with various parties involved.

Van Buitenen is a well-known whistleblower. As a European official he revealed fraud in the European Commission. His actions resulted in the entire European Commission resigning in 1999.