Meco tragedy: determined parents appeal to European courts

The determined families of six university students swept to their deaths into the sea at Meco beach 15 months ago are refusing to accept yesterday’s second judicial decision not to allow the case against the only survivor to go to trial. Their plan is to appeal – first to the higher court in Évora and then to Europe. “This will not stop,” the mother of one of the victims told journalists.

The devastated families have always maintained their loved ones’ deaths were in some way provoked by the actions of fellow student João Gouveia – known now in the press as “Dux”, the head of the university’s pranks committee.

Ever since Catarina Soares, Andreia Revez, Joana Barroso, Tiago Campos, Carina Sanchez and Pedro Negrão were swept to their deaths – according to ‘Dux’ by a freak wave – questions have centred on why the young people were so close to the sea. Had they been made to wade in in their university gowns? Was this all part of a cynical prank that went horribly wrong? Dux has always maintained that it was not.

And yesterday Judge Nelson Escórcio agreed with him.

Closing the case – for the second time – at Setúbal court yesterday, Escórcio told the parents to “accept reality”. This was not an “extraordinary, evil or conspiratorial” situation, it was simply one that is “profoundly painful”.

“The sea kills,” he told the parents. “Every year. Every day. It killed six young people. If we have the courage to reduce the facts to their real dimension, perhaps we can accept the absurd fragility of life.”

He added that there was nothing to prove that the deceased “had been made to consume alcoholic drinks by the defendant, nor that they were obliged to perform press ups”.

Alcohol, he said, “is a normal thing at student parties”.

Gouveia’s father, who had given evidence for his son, said he hoped now that the young man would be allowed to get on with his life. “He isn’t guilty of anything,” he told journalists outside the courtroom.

But the parents are convinced of conspiracy. They even allege complicity between the judge and the prosecutor who initially archived the case in Almada.

A spokesperson for the families said the parents felt that they had been treated by the authorities “with total disrespect and lack of consideration simply because they demand clear answers over what happened” during the fateful late-night student foray onto the beach at Meco that resulted in such a tragic loss of young lives.

By NATASHA DONN [email protected]