Esposende’s fatal landslide “could be crime of negligence”
Landslide in Palmeira de Faro, Esposende, on November 23 - Photo: HUGO DELGADO/LUSA

Esposende’s fatal landslide “could be crime of negligence”

PS Socialists go after borough’s PSD mayor

Benjamin Pereira, the PSD mayor of Esposende, could be accused of a crime of negligent homicide for the landslide that claimed the lives last week of 22-year-old parents-to-be Susana Gonçalves and Fábio Veloso.

This is the opening paragraph of a story in tabloid Correio da Manhã today, which has interviewed lawyer Pedro Marinho Falcão, who appears to be arguing the point of the municipality’s PS opposition.

He told CM that both the mayor and municipal technicians “could be accused” of negligent homicide because “knowing the danger of a landslide, they did nothing to avoid it”.

This story in many ways harks back to the controversy that followed the collapse of a road near a quarry in Borba four years ago. There too came accusations that authorities had known of the dangers of a possible collapse for years, and done nothing about them… The Borba story has yet to reach a courtroom.

In other words, whatever transpires in this latest drama, a trial will be a long time coming.

Says CM today, local PS Socialists on Esposende borough council “want to go to the final consequences”.

The paper claims “the municipality knew of the risk (to the homes in Palmeira de Faro) for over a year. In August 2021 there was a meeting between residents of the area and members of the town council”. 

Benjamin Pereira has told RTP: “We made people aware that since it was a situation of private land we had no legitimacy to intervene”.

According to lawyer Marinho Falcão, that is simply “not true. The borough council has a responsibility to uphold the safety of citizens. If owners, advised of danger, do nothing, the municipality can carry out the necessary work, charge the costs (to the owners of the property) and open administrative proceedings”.

Thus local PS Socialists said over the weekend that they will be asking the Attorney General to commission a report by the Laboratory of Civil Engineers – a geotechnical study, to be undertaken in collaboration with specialists at Minho University.

Says the party: “The Municipality of Esposende is known for concessions granted to some, allowing construction on top of lines of water, on cliffs, on primary dunes, in violation of territorial plans”.

As all this plays out, the six families affected by last Wednesday’s horrific landslide have been unable to return to their homes, due to the risk of further disaster.

Photographs taken by Lusa show how a whole section of hillside behind the houses simply collapsed, bringing huge boulders down on the house in which Susana Gonçalves and Fábio Veloso lay sleeping.

The boulders crashed into the back of the house, apparently killing the young couple instantly.

CM also reminds its readers of cases in which mayors were charged with negligent homicide that HAVE reached a courtroom. The most recent – focusing on the mayors of Pedrógão Grande, Castanheira de Pera and Figueiró dos Vinhos, and apportioning blame for the killer fires of 2017 – resulted in all those accused of negligent homicide being absolved. Appeals lodged by the Public Ministry were announced earlier this month.

natasha.donn@portugalresident.com