14 Aug 2012

Report damns Norwegian police over mass killing

8:30 am on 14 August 2012

An offical report says the Norwegian police could have prevented the bombing of central Oslo and caught mass killer Anders Breivik faster.

Breivik has admitted killing 77 people and wounding more than 240 others when he bombed a government department and then went on a shooting rampage at a youth camp on Utoeya Island last year.

Police have been widely criticised for taking too long to reach the island. The report of an inquiry headed by lawyer Alexandra Bech Gjoerv says they took an "unacceptable" 35 minutes to get there.

The report notes that a two-man local police team reached the lake shore at Utvika first, but chose to wait for better-trained colleagues rather than find a boat and cross to Utoeya themselves.

The inquiry has concluded that the attack on the government complex in Oslo, in which eight people died, could have been prevented by effective implementation of security measures that had already been approved.

Presenting the 482-page report, the inquiry team questioned why the street outside the prime minister's office, Grubbegata, was not closed to traffic as had been recommended seven years before.

The report also gives details of a phone-call made by a pedestrian 10 minutes after the Oslo bomb went off, giving police a good description of a man carrying a pistol and wearing protective clothing.

The operator passed the message on but the tipoff was not followed up for some two hours, the report says.

No immediate nationwide alert

Although it was clear that a terrorist attack had been carried out, the inquiry says no immediate nationwide alert was given, no roadblocks or observation posts were set up, no attempt was made to mobilise helicopters, nor did the operation centre take up offers from neighbouring police districts.

The operation centre was "simply overloaded", the report concludes, to the extent that staff did little to prevent further attacks during "the acute phase".

In the aftermath of the attacks, police were criticised for their failure to use a helicopter once alerted to the shootings, and for the bungled attempt to reach the island on an inflatable boat.

  • As early as 5.25pm local time on 22 July, shootings were reported on Utoeya.
  • Within five minutes, police were contacted by a boat captain offering his vessel but the message was not acted on.
  • The first local police patrol arrived at 5.55, but the two officers did not try to find a boat despite guidelines recommending an immediate reponse to gun attacks.
  • An 11-strong elite Delta force team from Oslo arrived 14 minutes later.
  • They were forced to abandon their own overloaded dinghy for two civilian boats and landed on Utoeya at 6.27.
  • They could have reached the island at 6.15, the commission suggests.

PM says he takes responsibility

Norwegian prime minister Jens Stoltenberg says he deeply regrets the mistakes that were made and takes responsibility for what happened; but he has stopped short of saying there will be ministerial resignations.

A verdict in Breivik's trial is due on 24 August. The panel of five trial judges will have to rule on his sanity when they deliver their verdict: their conclusion will determine whether he is given a long prison sentence or is sent to a secure psychiatric ward.

The 10-week trial was marked by harrowing testimony from witnesses about his shootings. In the meticulously planned attack, Breivik wore a fake police uniform and methodically hunted down victims - all youth members of the Labour Party - on the island.

He refused to plead guilty, evoking the "principle of necessity". He accused the Labour Party of promoting multiculturalism and endangering Norway's identity.