Government cover-up alleged in fireworks disaster that killed 23, injured 950

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

The wrong people were convicted for a massive fireworks explosion in 2000 that leveled part of Enschede, left 23 people dead and 950 injured, De Groene Amsterdammer reports based on an investigation report by former whistleblower Paul van Buitenen. It was a government "cover-up affair", Van Buitenen concludes, according to the magazine.

Van Buitenen based his report on a secret file containing documents from the police and Public Prosecutor, which he received in 2014, and information from sources he found himself, according to the magazine. He shared his report confidentially with the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of Dutch parliament, who sought advice from the Dutch Safety Board. But last month the Dutch Safety Board refused to launch a new investigation, saying that the disaster happened too long ago. 

After the disaster in 1999, the Dutch authorities concluded that too much and too strong fireworks were stored at the storage location S.E. Fireworks in Enschede. The company's two directors were convicted of death through negligence and sentenced to prison. Andre de Vries was also convicted as the arsonist who started the fire, but he was later acquitted due to lack of evidence. 

Van Buitenen previously reported that many mistakes were made in the investigation into the disaster, but he now suggests that there was a deliberate cover-up. Two detectives previously reported problems with the Public Prosecutor investigation, but the Rijksrecherche, the department that handles internal investigations at government services, concluded that there was no evidence for their allegations and the detectives were fired. Van Buitenen's report shows that an internal police investigation quickly proved that the detectives were telling the truth, but that this investigation disappeared due to intervention by the Rijksrecherche.

The case against the directors was largely based on a reconstruction of the disaster by Dutch forensic Institute NFI and TNO. While this was always considered to be an independent investigation, internal documents in Van Buitenen's possession show that they were in close consultation with the Public Prosecutor and the Rijksrecherche to coordinate their reconstructions. The explosion itself was also seen as ultimate proof that S.E. Fireworks had strong fireworks in its storage, as the definition of "light" fireworks is that they cannot explode. But Van Buitenen's report shows that in 2005 TNO discovered in tests in Poland that a closed container containing only light fireworks could cause a massive explosion. This discovery was never published by TNO. 

The Prosecutor also largely ignored other possible suspects and focused all its attentions on finding evidence against the directors, Van Buitenen said in his report, according to De Groene Amsterdammer. And despite the police always saying that the S.E. Fireworks administration was lost in the fire, Van Buitenen managed to get a copy of it. 

Van Buitenen concludes that the Prosecutor's "tunnel vision" in the investigation can be attributed to great pressure after the disaster to quickly identify the guilty parties. Various ministers had a motive to conceal their own mistakes, he said, De Groene Amsterdamer reports.