Investigating the Love Parade Tragedy Did One Police Officer's Order Lead to Disaster?

Did a single police order result in the deaths of 21 people at last summer's Love Parade? According to information obtained by SPIEGEL, several security personnel have accused an officer of demanding that a crowd control facility be opened. The resulting flood of visitors may have directly contributed to the tragedy.

Mourners laying candles and flowers last August at the site of the Love Parade disaster in Duisburg.
AFP

Mourners laying candles and flowers last August at the site of the Love Parade disaster in Duisburg.


The 21 deaths and hundreds of injuries were bad enough. But six months after the July 24 Love Parade in the western German city of Duisburg ended in disaster, efforts by city employees, event organizers and police to sidestep responsibility for the deadly crush that developed at the entry to the site have continued.

According to information obtained from the ongoing investigation by SPIEGEL, several security personnel contracted by Love Parade organizer Lopavent have testified that a police officer issued an order that may have directly contributed to the tragedy. They say the officer ordered the opening of an access control facility outside the west entrance to the tunnel leading to the site -- despite event organizers having requested that the facility remain closed.

"The officer did not acquiesce to our objections that (should the facility be opened), a backup inside the entrance tunnel could result," one of the security workers said. "We had to obey his orders."

The accusation is the latest in a series of allegations made by those involved in the event. Lopavent has insisted that the police made crucial errors as crowds swelled throughout the afternoon; both the city and the police have accused the event organizers of insufficient crowd control personnel; and the city has been blasted for signing off on an event concept which included a single tunnel and ramp that was to serve as both the entrance and exit to a party expected to attract a half-million visitors.

In mid-January, Duisburg public prosecutors announced that it had opened investigations into 16 people in connection with the event. Last week, investigators searched 10 homes and offices in search of "electronically saved data that we do not yet have," according to head public prosecutor Rolf Haferkamp.

Seeking to Alleviate Congestion

In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, speculation had centered on access routes to the site, a disused freight rail station. One large ramp was to serve as both the entrance and exit to the site with a smaller ramp not far away planned as an exit ramp. Both ramps, however, led to a single tunnel, through which partygoers could approach the entrance from the east or the west. Access control facilities had been set up outside each tunnel in an effort to control the number of visitors entering the tunnel.

The police officer who ordered the opening of the facility at the western tunnel entrance had apparently sought to alleviate significant knots of people assembled there. By the time he allegedly ordered the facility to be opened, however, entrance to the parade grounds had essentially been blocked -- initially by a knot of people at the top of the entrance ramp and then by police officers vainly attempting to hold back the surging crowd. Once the western access control facility was opened, thousands of partygoers surged into the tunnel, ultimately resulting in the deadly crush.

Among those currently under investigation are the head of Duisburg's legal department, the head of its urban development department, the deputy director of the local office of public order and a crowd manager hired by Lopavent to coordinate access to the site on the day of the event. A police official is also under investigation.

Duisburg Mayor Adolf Sauerland, who was heavily criticized in the wake of the incident, is not under investigation, nor is Lopavent head Rainer Schaller, who revitalized the Love Parade event after it was moved from Berlin to western Germany's Ruhr Valley region.

cgh/SPIEGEL

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