France police cleared over Zyed and Bouna 2005 deaths
- 18 May 2015
- From the section Europe
A court in France has acquitted two police officers accused of failing to help two boys, whose deaths at a power substation led to weeks of riots.
Bouna Traore, 15, and Zyed Benna, 17, were electrocuted in the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois in October 2005.
Police had chased the boys as they made their way home from a football match.
Almost 10 years later, the court in Rennes cleared Sebastien Gaillemin and Stephanie Klein of charges of failing to assist someone in danger.
Adel Benna, Zyed's brother, said he was sickened by Monday's ruling.
"Police officers are untouchable. It's not just in this case, they are never convicted," he told reporters.
The officers had been accused of doing nothing to help, despite knowing the boys were in danger when they were seen approaching the EDF power facility. They insisted they were not to blame.
Bouna and Zyed were electrocuted while a third youth, Muhittin Altun, escaped with burns.
The deaths ignited three weeks of clashes with security forces in run-down city suburbs across France.
Vehicles and public buildings were burned and thousands of people arrested in rioting that led to the first state of emergency in the country for more than 20 years.
For years the case dragged through the courts, until in 2012 France's highest court overturned a ruling that dropped a "failure to help" charge against the officers.
But Monday's closely-watched decision, which comes after a five-day trial in March, is final and cannot be appealed.
The trial focused on a phrase that Mr Gaillemin, 41, radioed to colleagues, saying: "If they enter the site there's not much hope they'll make it alive."
The call was received by Ms Klein, a police intern at the time, who was accused of not reacting.
But president judge Nicolas Leger ruled that neither officer had a "clear awareness of an imminent and serious danger", which would be required under French law for a conviction.
The officers' lawyer, Daniel Merchat, said his clients were "relieved".
"For nine years, my clients have been completely convinced that they committed neither a mistake, nor a crime. This nine-year case has left them suffering... for them this is now a page that has turned," AFP news agency quoted him as saying.
France 2005 riots
- 25 October: Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy pelted with stones and bottles in Paris suburb of Argenteuil. Describes violent elements as "gangrene" and "rabble" ("racaille" in French)
- 27 October: Deaths of Zyed Benna and Bouna Traore in Clichy-sous-Bois trigger riots
- 30 October: Mr Sarkozy pledges "zero tolerance" of rioting and sends police reinforcements to Clichy-sous-Bois
- 3 November: Violence spreads beyond Paris region to eastern city of Dijon and parts of south and west
- 9 November: Emergency powers come into force across more than 30 French towns and cities
If found guilty, the two officers would have faced up to five years in prison. However, both the defence and prosecution had called for an acquittal.
The two dead teenagers' relatives have launched a civil case, seeking a total of €1.6m (£1.2m; $1.8m) in compensation and damages.
The hashtag #ZyedEtBouna was trending in France on Monday, with many users expressing their dismay at the verdict.
But far-right National Front MP Marion Marechal Le Pen, a granddaughter of party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, provoked an angry response when she used the word "rabble" to describe young delinquents, echoing what former Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy had said two days before the two boys died.
She suggested the ruling showed that the riots had been unleashed "for pleasure and not because of a police blunder".
Clichy is one of France's most notorious immigrant "banlieues" (suburbs).
In January, Prime Minister Manuel Valls said France should no longer tolerate "ghettoisation" in the suburbs, following the Paris attacks that left 17 people dead.
Social alienation was seen as a factor in the attacks, carried out by jihadist gunmen.