24 Oct 2012

Italy disaster body head quits over ruling

7:46 am on 24 October 2012

The head of Italy's top disaster body has resigned in protest after seven of its members were sentenced to six years in jail for manslaughter for underestimating the risks of a deadly 2009 earthquake.

Luciano Maiami, one of Italy's top physicists and a former head of Cern in Geneva, resigned from the Major Risks Committee and criticised the verdict delivered by the court on Monday as "a big mistake".

"These are professionals who spoke in good faith and were by no means motivated by personal interests, they had always said that it is not possible to predict an earthquake," he told the Corriere della Sera newspaper.

"This is the end of scientists giving consultations to the state," he said.

All seven defendants were members of the Major Risks Committee which met in L'Aquila on March 31, 2009, six days before the 6.3-magnitude quake devastated the region, killing 309 people and leaving thousands homeless.

They were sentenced to six years in jail on Monday in a watershed ruling in a case that has provoked outrage in the international science community.

The experts were also ordered to pay more than €9 million in damages to survivors and inhabitants. Under the Italian justice system, the seven will remain free men until they have exhausted two chances to appeal the verdict, AFP reports.