All defendants acquitted
The 10 men and one woman facing charges of negligent homicide for the fires that killed 66 people in Pedrógão Grande in 2017, and injured 44, have all heard – five years and a great deal of heartache on – that they are acquitted of any and all liability.
Leiria judges found the Public Ministry’s accusations “unfounded and unproven”. They also found claims for civil compensation unfounded.
Reading the decisions, lead judge Maria Clara Santos stressed that “the generality of deaths verified (…) were as a direct consequence of convective outflow, or of verified downburst – a rare and unpredictable pyro meteorological phenomenon”.
There was nothing in the case presented to the court that proved that deaths and offenses to physical integrity came as a result of actions or omissions in the conduct of any of the defendants.
The moment left firefighting commander Augusto Arnaut visibly moved. He has been through the mill over these accusations – when all his supporters say he was ever doing was his job, in hugely difficult circumstances.
Yesterday’s final ditching of this dismal case took around five and a half hours of reading of the judgement in court.
The defendants were Augusto Arnaut, two employees of the former EDP Distribuição (now E-Redes), José Geria and Casimiro Pedro, three Ascendi employees (Rogério Mota, José Revés and Ugo Berardinelli), three former mayors (Fernando Lopes, Valdemar Alves and Jorge Abreu), a former deputy mayor (of Pedrógão Grande, José Graça) and the former head of the municipality’s Forestry Office, Margarida Gonçalves.
The Public Ministry has not yet intimated whether it will be appealing. It had specified that it wanted to see “ effective prison sentences” for Augusto Arnaut, Casimiro Pedro and the three Ascendi employees.
President Marcelo meantime has sought to draw a line under this desperately sad moment in Portugal’s recent history, saying “what Justice has decided is decided” and encouraging “respect for this decision”.
With José Luís Carneiro, the current minister for internal administration, telling reporters: “I think justice has been done”, it seems unlikely that the Public Ministry will be filing an appeal.