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France

French court reverses dismissal of pre-riot death case against police

media Zyad Benna and Bouna Traoré AFP/Joel Saget

France’s top appeals court has reversed the dismissal of a case against two police officers accused of failing to prevent the deaths of two teenagers in Clichy-sous-Bois, near Paris, in 2005. Riots broke out and spread across France’s disadvantaged banlieues after the two youths were electrocuted by an electrical transformer while running away from police.

The court’s ruling means that there may be a trial of the two officers involved, as the families of Zyed Benna and Bouna Traoré have demanded for the last seven years with the support of local campaign groups.

Benna, who was 17, and Traoré, who was 15, jumped into the station where the transformer was situated while being pursued by police, although they have not been accused of committing a crime before the chase started.

The court on Wednesday judged that the lower appeal court had not established that the police officers were unaware that the two were heading for the transformer, as they claimed, and so could be guilty of negligence in failing to prevent their deaths.

Public prosecutors had backed the dismissal but a comment by one of the officers during radio exchanges was a key argument against it.

“If they go onto the EDF [electricity company] site, I don’t give them much of a chance,” he is reported to have said.

“At no point […] did the police try to warn the children of the danger,” the families’ lawyer Patrice Spinosi argued.

Several nights of rioting followed the deaths in Clichy-sous-Bois and the violence spread to similar housing estates across France – an expression of widespread resentment of policing methods, unemployment and alleged discrimination against young people of immigrant origin.

The families’ supporters had warned that a confirmation of the dismissal would confirm feelings of judicial double standards and police impunity in such areas.

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