23 Oct 2012

Quake scientists found guilty

6:35 am on 23 October 2012

Six Italian scientists and an ex-government official have been sentenced to six years in prison over a deadly earthquake in L'Aquila in 2009.

A regional court on Monday found them guilty of multiple manslaughter for underestimating the risks.

They were also ordered to pay more than nine million euros in damages.

Prosecutors said the defendants gave a falsely reassuring statement before the quake after studying tremors that had shaken the city.

The defence had argued that there was no way to predict major earthquakes even in a seismically active area.

The magnitude 6.3 quake on 31 March, 2009, devastated the city and killed 309 people. There were many smaller tremors in the area in the months before .

The seven were all members of the National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks.

Judge Marco Billi took slightly more than four hours to reach the verdict in the trial, which had begun in September 2011.

The BBC reports case has alarmed many scientists, who feel science itself has been put on trial. More than 5000 signed an open letter to Italian President Giorgio Napolitano in support of the defendants.

Lawyers have said that they will appeal against the sentence.