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Environment

Victims want Total to pay for deadly Toulouse accident

media September 21, 2001 the explosion at the AZF plant in Toulouse. AFP / Eric Cabanis

The appeal hearing in the long-running AZF trial opens in Toulouse in southwestern France on Thursday, over ten years after 31 died and 2,500 were injured in the industrial accident.

It's two years since the director and the company Grande Paroisse (part of the Total group) were acquitted in the case concerning one of France’s worst industrial accidents.

Spate of high-profile trials in France

The company Grande Paroisse and the director of the factory, Serge Biechlin are charged with involuntary homicide.

The latest trial is expected to last 4 months and like the last one, will be filmed for posterity.

At the first trial, organisational failings were exposed at the company and the court ruled that judicial experts were probably correct when they said the accident was caused when a chlorine product was put on a pile of ammonium nitrate (fertiliser or mining explosive) stored in a hangar which exploded half an hour later.

However, in the absence of material evidence of such a mix, the defendants were acquitted.

The State prosecution immediately launched an appeal on behalf of the victims.

France’s worst industrial accident since 1945 has profoundly divided the victims’ associations, who condemn what they term a “garbage-factory” and the company’s former employees who dispute the theories of the judicial experts.

Lawyer Daniel Soulez Larivière, acting for the company, says there is no credible explanation for the explosion.

The first clash is likely to be over the demand of several civil parties that Total and its ex-president Thierry Desmarest be put in the dock as well as Grande Paroisse and Serge Biechlin.

 

 

 

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