Boss jailed for for AZF explosion

31 killed in AZF blast - screengrab: BFMTV

Appeals court says negligence caused Toulouse plant blast that killed 31 in country's deadliest industrial accident

ELEVEN years after a massive chemical plant blast that killed 31 people, injured 2,500 and wrecked 30,000 homes in Toulouse, an appeals court has jailed the former manager for a year for manslaughter.

AZF fetiliser plant boss Serge Biechlin received a three-year term with two years suspended and a €45,000 fine for manslaughter through negligence and a lack of care. The plant owner, Total subsidiary Grande Paroisse, was fined the maximum penalty of €225,000 for the same offence.

Biechlin and Grande Paroisse were cleared at a previous hearing in 2009 after the court ruled there was insufficient evidence of negligence, causing widespread anger.

The prosecution appealed and the appeal court ruled that the blast was caused when a chlorine-based product and ammonium nitrate were stored together and sparked an explosive reaction.

The 2001 blast was France’s deadliest industrial accident since the Second World War. It was heard for 50 miles and registered 3.4 on the Richter scale. Steel girders from the site were found 3km away.

Around two-thirds of the windows in Toulouse were shattered by the blast which left a cloud of gas and chemicals over the city. One in 10 of the inhabitants had to be evacuated.

It left many people disabled and with hearing problems and, coming just days after the September 11 terror attacks in New York, was feared to have been part of a terror attack on France.

Total has already paid out several billion in compensation, without any admission of responsibility.

Further information: Gendarmerie video of AZF site after the blast
BFMTV article on anniversary of blast

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