German court dismisses charges over Love Parade disaster

Berlin (AFP) - A German court on Tuesday threw out criminal charges stemming from a catastrophic stampede at a Love Parade street party in 2010 that killed 21 people, in a ruling that enraged victims' families.

The decision by the regional court in the western city of Duisburg for now halts efforts to prosecute those who planned the event over its chaotic crowd management.

"The state's accusations could not be proved with the evidence presented," the court said in a terse statement after dismissing the charges against six city officials and four parade organisers.

"Hence a conviction of the accused could not be expected."

Prosecutors said they would appeal the ruling, as lawyers representing survivors of the stampede and victims' families blasted the decision.

Attorney Baerbel Schoenhof told reporters it amounted to a "slap in the face" for the "extremely traumatised" people at the parade that day.

Julius Reiter, who is representing around 100 co-plaintiffs, called the dismissal a "judicial scandal".

German prosecutors had charged the 10 suspects with negligent manslaughter and bodily harm in February 2014.

The manslaughter charges could have carried sentences of up to five years in prison.

Twelve civil lawsuits are still pending and expected to be heard from next month.

In a rare press conference on a court ruling, presiding judge Ulf-Thomas Bender placed the blame for the case's collapse on major failings in an expert report that was to serve as the main basis of the prosecution's case during the trial.

Bender angrily denounced the evaluation by British crowd disaster expert Keith Still as flawed, biased and contradictory, saying it had little chance of holding up in court.

"Although the court posed 75 follow-up questions, the questions remained unanswered and gaps in the report were not rectified," Bender said.

- Crushed, trampled or suffocated -

The disaster occurred on July 24, 2010 when a large crowd of revellers at one of Europe's top techno music events was forced to go through a narrow tunnel that served as the only entrance and exit to the festival grounds.

Those killed -- 13 women and eight men who were crushed, trampled to death or suffocated -- included seven foreigners, from Australia, Italy, the Netherlands, China and Spain.

More than 650 people were injured in the mass panic as pressure from a heaving sea of hundreds of thousands of young people squashed the victims against fences and walls.

Prosecutors blamed serious planning errors for the tragedy at the site, a former cargo rail depot in the industrial city.

The mayor of Duisburg at the time, Adolf Sauerland, became the prime target of public anger and was forced to resign by a 2012 city referendum, accused of having ignored warnings that the summer festival was a disaster waiting to happen.

The Love Parade started as an underground event in the former West Berlin in 1989 and was held there most years until 2006, at times drawing over one million people.

Following wrangling over permits and arguments over the mountains of trash left behind, the festival moved from Berlin to cities in western Germany's industrial Ruhr region until the tragedy of 2010.

The deadly disaster led organisers to declare that the Love Parade would never be held again "out of respect for the victims".