@ Cynthia Adina Kirkwood
Pedrogao Grande Fire’s “Trial of Shame”
Updated: May 23, 2022
Most of the fatalities occurred on this road as residents tried to flee the fire.
The president of the municipality of Oliveira do Hospital strongly criticized the legal proceedings of 11 defendants who are on trial to determine responsibility for the deaths of 63 and the injuries of 44 in the Pedrogao Grande fire.
The “trial of shame”, Jose Carlos Alexandrino called it.
Referring to the commander of the volunteer firefighters and the other defendants, Jose Carlos Alexandrino said:
“No court can convict you for something that you couldn’t avoid.
“These people did not die because of the (lack) of protective cleared strips along the roads. These people died because these were fires with characteristics that had never been seen in Portugal. It was a new phenomenon similar to when certain hurricanes hit us.”
The president also questioned the absence of lawmakers in the group of those accused of criminal liability in the June 2017 fire, according to SAPO24 (July 24).
“I ask why there is no governor, why there is no deputy accused in this process since they made the laws and did not give us the means (to obey them),” he asked on the Day of the Municipality of Pedrogao Grande in Leiria District on July 24. “It cannot be only the mayors or the commander of the fire brigade or other such people, said Jose Carlos Alexandrino, who also is president of the Intercommunal Community of the Region of Coimbra.
“It would be good if the tribunal begins, with others who make laws at the Assembly of the Republic, to make laws so that municipal councils can comply with them. There are laws that, in order to be respected, we must have the means to finance ourselves to do so.”
Jose Carlos Alexandrino first described the legal procedure as a “trial of shame” at a presentation in June of a video surveillance system for the prevention of fires, chaired by the Secretary of State for Internal Affairs and held in Cantanhede. He reiterated the phrase in Pedrogao Grande in July.
Admitting that his views are nonconformist regarding this trial, José Carlos Alexandrino argued that it is not necessary to find “scapegoats so that we can all have a clear conscience.” He regretted wanting to judge people “as if it were possible to control this fire”.
He said that he will testify in the judicial court of Leiria, where proceedings began on May 24, because he does not believe that “a cleaning of 10 meters on each side of the road would have prevented any deaths” either in Pedrogao Grande or Oliveira do Hospital.
The defendants are two current municipality presidents, one former municipality president and two council employees, who are accused of failing to clear the land along the roads; the commander of the local fire station, who is accused of preventing the safeguarding villages and populations having omitted information that could have led to a cut in the road where 47 people died; two EDP employees, who are accused of not cleaning the strips along a medium-voltage line, which had an electrical discharge of unknown cause that set off the fire; and three members of roads authority Ascendi Pinhal Interior, who are accused of lack of road maintenance, according to Observador (May 24).
They all face charges of negligent homicide and grievous bodily harm, according to Diario de Noticias (May 24).
The fires of October 2017 in the Central region left 49 dead and an estimated 70 injured with the total or partial destruction of about 1,500 homes and more than 500 businesses, according to Visao (July 24).
In Oliveira do Hospital, 97 percent of the municipality burned, with 13 recorded deaths.