Roskilde: No Case To Answer

It’s too early to say the five-year quest to get a legal verdict on who is responsible for the nine deaths at Roskilde 2000 is over, but the Danish Ostre Landsret High Court has ruled the festival has no case to answer.

That judgment says there’s not enough evidence to suggest some of the bereaved parents should be given leave to continue their battle to make the festival accept responsibility in a court of law.

Finn and Eunice Tonnesen, who lost their 17-year-old son Allan during that June 30 crowd crush, can appeal the November 9 Ostre Landsret decision at the country’s Supreme Court, but the huge costs involved mean they’ll probably need legal aid to do that.

The Tonnesens’ lawyer, Tige Trier of the Copenhagen branch of Eversheds, could not be reached for comment on the result or the likelihood of an appeal.

Roskilde director Esben Danielsen welcomed the Ostre Landsret verdict but isn’t confident it’s the end of the matter.

“We expect they’ll get legal aid because they’ve got it so far,” he explained.

The Tonnesens’ action is basically “a test case” and, if it’s successful, Trier would have a copper-bottomed precedent with which to bring further actions on behalf of other parents.

If they get legal aid and the appeal is won, then the matter would return to the High Court and – effectively – the festival would be put on trial.

If the decision isn’t appealed, or the appeal case itself is lost, then the matter will close without there ever having been a judicial ruling on what went wrong and who is at fault.

There have, however, been two enquiries into what happened that night and both stopped short of holding the festival to blame.

The first was conducted almost immediately by Roskilde deputy chief constable Bendt Rungstroem, the man responsible for granting the festival licence, and was greeted with a howl of media and public protest.

Danish national papers and international live industry magazines were easily able to prove certain evidence had been overlooked and Rungstroem’s verdict that the tragedy was due to “a chain of unfortunate circumstances” was widely seen as a whitewash.

In February 2001, then-Justice Minister Frank Jensen bowed to the criticism and asked the state prosecutor to reopen the investigation.

The second report, which was headed by Kim Christiansen from the Zealand Public Prosecutors Office, was harder-hitting and said the festival management had not issued guidelines as to when and how the music should be stopped in the event of such an accident, senior stewards had no idea what to do in an emergency situation caused by a crowd crush, medics onsite were not aware of where essential medicines and oxygen were stored and the local police failed to check the event’s compliance with security conditions.

It was also critical of the way the police had checked out site safety in the first place.

What left the bereaved families feeling short-changed was that the overall verdict described the oversights as being “unsatisfactory,” but not in themselves sufficient to warrant criminal charges.

While the parents are saying they’re more interested in the festival accepting responsibility than winning damages, which would be set at around 70,000 Danish kroner (roughly US$11,600) per parent, Roskilde has refused to accept that responsibility.

The festival has also become wary of discussing what it is prepared to do for the parents: It has always been prepared to make a goodwill contribution to cover expenses (around US$10,500 in each case) but that got an angry reaction from the parents and from the local media, with many papers reporting it as the festival’s attempt to “buy off” the families.

Danielsen vehemently denies this and told Pollstar the festival is “being more careful about what it’s saying” because it felt the way the offer was reported was unfair.

“We hope to be able to find a good solution with the parents through a personal dialogue. So, we are open to what they suggest,” he added.

— John Gammon