Paulo Cunha/Lusa

Trial begins into who can be blamed for Pedrógão Grande’s horrific deaths and hundreds of injured

Almost four years since wildfires of biblical proportions consumed the lives, health and livelihoods of so many Portuguese citizens in and around Pedrógão Grande, a trial to apportion blame has opened in the Tribunal de Leiria.

In the dock are two current mayors, one former mayor, two council employees, the commander of the local fire station, two EDP staff members and three members of roads authority Ascendi. 

The defendants all face charges of negligent homicide and grievous bodily harm. 

Fire chief Augusto Arnaut and the two EDP workers, for example, have been charged on 63 counts of homicide, 44 of grievous bodily harm.

A report into the factors that played into this tragedy found that the ‘bolt of dry lightning’ initially blamed for the cause of the fire was spurious. Forest fire specialist Domingues Xavier Viegas and his team concluded the blaze began because medium-tension electricity cables came into contact with vegetation (click here).

In a report that tip-toed round pointing the finger in any specific direction, the exact wording referred to indications of “deficient management of combustible material’.

The bottom line was that there had been clear failings in general maintenance by competent authorities, while the blaze itself saw multiple deficiencies both in combat and assistance to the wounded.

This was the worst fire in Portugal’s living memory. It lasted five days – and tragically was followed by another killer blaze in the same terrible season (click here).

But today’s trial is focused solely on Pedrógão Grande and goes ahead “under a shadow of illegality and lack of transparency”, writes tabloid Correio da Manhã.

Appeals connected to the case are still awaiting answers, as are judicial time limits on certain counts.

The courtroom, due to Covid-led restrictions, is much too small to allow members of the public or a full possé of journalists – and the various ‘assistants’ to the case (victims or family members thereof) have been told because of this they cannot be present for the hearings. They will simply be obliged to make statements.

This has concerned many involved, says the paper, particularly Nádia Piazza – a woman who lost her five-year-old son on ‘the road of death’ – the EN236-1 – down which so many frightened people were ushered, only to perish in a killer ‘downblast’ (click here).

“This case interests all of us. We should be able to accompany it”, she told CM.

Suspicions that the choice of venue has an ulterior motive stem from the fact that the trial into illegalities of the rebuilding  programme (click here) is going ahead in Leiria’s ExpoSalão, which has space for up to 100 people, says the paper.

TRIAL INTERRUPTED ALMOST AS SOON AS IT BEGINS

Almost the moment the trial began in Leiria’s Palácio de Justiça, it was interrupted by a strike involving court workers chanting slogans like “Costa escuta, oficiais de justiça estão em luta” (Costa listen, court workers are struggling”.

This was a limited protest, taking place between 10-11am – and due to continue everyday through May until June 17.

Court officials have been demanding various improvements to their employment terms, salary conditions and quite a lot in between since the turn of this century. They say the government has failed overwhelmingly to give them the kind of response they require.

Their intervention this morning was part of a national action that threatens to interrupt courtrooms up and down the country for the next few weeks.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com