Portuguese firefighter
Image: Miguel Pereira da Silva/ Lusa

Metadata law frees arsonist and alleged pedophile

Law’s unconstitutionality means cases based on metadata evidence keep falling

The ongoing ‘drama’ of a law deemed unconstitutional – in spite of the fact that this undermines police investigations – has seen two serious cases bite the dust this week.

One refers to an alleged pedophile in Faro accused of no less than 100,000 crimes; another to a former firefighter accused of causing 18 fires in Alfândega da Fé.

Both have been absolved of all charges, explain reports, because the declaration of unconstitutionality of the metadata law means that proof extracted from their mobile phones is “not admissible”.

In the first case, the defendant, aged around 20, was arrested by PJ police in Faro in 2021, following an international alert over the combat of child pornography, writes Correio da Manhã.

“As far as CM can gather, at the time (the suspect) confessed to the crimes in front of a pre-trial criminal judge. He was accused by the Public Prosecutions Office of possessing and sharing thousands of photographs and videos of sexual practices involving children”.

The suspect has been under house arrest since 2021 – but due to the ruling, he was released yesterday. “Public prosecutors will be lodging an appeal”, the paper adds.

“In the case of the former firefighter: the man of 43 years was a volunteer fireman at Alfândega da Fé station, where he exercised the function of chief. He was arrested in September 2019 by the PJ, accused of having started 18 fires in the Bragança municipality. The declaration of unconstitutionality of the law did not allow access to localisation pings on the accused’s mobile phone”, which showed he was close to all the fires when they began.

The judge hearing the case ruled that without the localisation pings, the rest of the prosecution’s evidence was “very circumstantial”.

The quandary for investigators of this ‘unconstitutional law’ began last year. According to Expresso it is a problem that has also affected other countries in Europe, thus a parliamentary working group is looking at the various ‘solutions’ found, to see which one would most suit Portugal. So far no consensus has come through.

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