Love parade trial in dusseldorf: 21 dead, no guilty party

The case against seven defendants is dropped. Three others will probably no longer have to fear a verdict because of the statute of limitations.

In memory of the victims in Duisburg Photo: Lukas Schulze/Getty Images

With tears in her eyes, Nadia Zanacchi stands in front of the east entrance of the huge Dusseldorf exhibition center on the Rhine. For more than a year, the Duisburg Regional Court has been trying to clarify who bears responsibility for the Love Parade disaster of July 24, 2010, in this congress center that has been declared an outpost. Zanacchi’s daughter Julia was among the 21 people who were crushed to death in the death zone between the filthy, low and 18-meter narrow Karl Lehr Tunnel and the actual Love Parade site at Duisburg’s former freight station.

The Italian woman, who was 21 years old at the time, died of bruising to the chest, as did all the other fatalities. Now the trial is causing her mother to despair once again: "The German justice system is failing," Zanacchi explains in English. "Something like this would not even be possible in Italy."

That something – that is the court’s attempt to stop the mammoth trial of ten defendants without a verdict. The individual guilt of the defendants was at best "low to moderate", had announced the presiding judge Mario Plein after a legal discussion with prosecutors, defense lawyers and joint plaintiffs already on January 18. On Tuesday, the prosecution and seven of the ten defendants – including six employees of the Duisburg city administration and the "creative director" of the Duisburg Love Parade employed by the event company Lopavent – agreed to the dismissal.

The court will only formally decide to discontinue their proceedings after all representatives of the plaintiffs have had their say this Wednesday. In all likelihood, however, the trial will be over for these seven defendants: without a conviction, without any conditions. Nevertheless, many defense attorneys emphasized once again on Tuesday that their clients consider themselves innocent.

Too many involved

Section 153 of the Code of Criminal Procedure makes this possible. "In view of 21 dead and more than 650 people, some of them seriously injured and still traumatized today," it would be difficult to "convey this to the relatives of the deceased and the injured," according to a statement by the prosecution read out by senior public prosecutor Uwe Muhlhoff. However, Muhlhoff vehemently rejected the accusation raised by the joint plaintiffs and parts of the public that the judiciary was shirking a decision: The individually ascertainable "culpable conduct" of the defendants was not sufficient for a legally secure conviction for involuntary manslaughter.

Judge Plein had already argued similarly when announcing the results of the legal discussion on January 18: In the opinion of the court, the reason for the Love Parade disaster was a "multi-causal event". To the deadly narrowness on the ramp between tunnel and old goods station also the police had contributed, which had posted there a chain from officials and had made so an advancement impossible. In addition, a police car drove into the crowded confines – the mass panic was thus intensified.

The trial did not begin until the end of 2017. The defendants were accused of involuntary manslaughter, among other things.

However, a senior police leader never had to stand trial: North Rhine-Westphalia’s then Interior Minister Ralf Jager (SPD) was immediately sure that his officers were not to blame. Love Parade organizer Rainer Schaller, who wanted to use the mega-rave to advertise his low-cost gym chain McFit, was also not charged, nor was Duisburg’s mayor at the time, Adolf Sauerland. The Christian Democrat had repeatedly exerted pressure within the administration and explained how urgently his city, which had been shaken by deindustrialization, needed an internationally renowned event like the Love Parade.

In 2014, the public prosecutor’s office declared that neither of them had been involved in the planning of the Love Parade, and that they were therefore not "criminally culpable. A parliamentary investigation committee of the state parliament also failed to materialize: the large SPD and CDU factions were thus able to take their party friends Jager and Sauerland out of the line of fire.

Moderate guilt

Instead, the trial that began in December 2017 with its more than 100 joint plaintiffs, representing the relatives of the victims and many of the 652 people injured, some of them seriously, will now continue only against three other employees of Schaller’s Lopavent. The production manager, the technical manager, and the head of security, who is hierarchically subordinate to them within the company, and to whom the court and the public prosecutor’s office assign a "moderately severe" degree of guilt, did not agree to the dismissal of their cases. The prosecution had wanted to impose on them monetary payments – expressly not fines or penalties – of 10,000 euros to charitable organizations.

The lawyer for the technical director, for example, argued that this was "incomprehensible": her client had "not been involved in any way" in the faulty planning of not using highway 59, which borders the Love Parade site, as an escape route from the very beginning.

The remaining three defendants, on the other hand, can rely on the threat of the statute of limitations: Exactly ten years after the Love Parade disaster, i.e. on July 24, 2020, the trial will end in any case – then also without a verdict or fines.

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