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Trial over Madrid Arena Halloween party deaths gets underway

Fifteen defendants face up to four years over 2012 tragedy in which five were crushed

The trial against 15 defendants charged with negligent homicide related to the deaths of five young women during an overcrowded Halloween party in Madrid in 2012 entered its third day on Thursday.

Francisco del Amo, who was the coordinator of operations and projects at Madridec – the municipal company responsible for managing the Madrid Arena, where the event took place – took the stand to repeatedly deny that he gave orders to allow as many as 3,000 additional people inside.

According to judicial investigators, around 23,000 tickets were sold for the 7,000-capacity venue

Five young women – Rocío Oña, Katia Esteban, Cristina Arce, Belén Langdon and María Teresa Alonso – were crushed to death and dozens of other people were injured after a flare was set off during DJ Steve Aoki’s Halloween night concert inside the arena. The commotion caused a stampede that left many concert-goers trapped inside a narrow passageway.

According to the investigation, tickets had been oversold for the party and security was lax for an event of that size.

Also on trial are Miguel Ángel Flores, the organizer of the event; Santiago Rojo, Flores’ assistant at his Diviertt special events company; doctors Simón Viñals and his son, Carlos, who were at the scene that evening and are charged with not providing adequate medical attention; and officials from a security firm.

Miguel Ángel Flores in the Madrid courtroom on Wednesday.

The defendants all face sentences of between two and four years in prison if convicted on all five negligent homicide charges.

Under questioning by prosecutors earlier Thursday, Rojo said it was Del Amo who gave the order to allow an additional 3,000 people to come inside for the concert. A crowd had gathered outside Madrid Arena for an outdoor drinking party.

“I never gave that order because no one that night had asked me to open the gate,” Del Amo testified. “I can’t order anyone to open that gate.”

Prosecutors in the case believe that the decision was made by both Rojo and Del Amo.

When he took the stand on Wednesday, Flores had denied that he had oversold tickets for the event, saying that only 12,000 were sold through the internet and a public relations firm. According to judicial investigators, around 23,000 tickets were sold for the 7,000-capacity venue.

While insisting that no free tickets were given out, Flores blamed Madrid City Hall, then under the leadership of Mayor Ana Botella of the Popular Party (PP), for not providing enough security and not having the necessary permits to stage large events at the venue.

“They already knew back in 2010 that they were doing things wrong,” he testified. “I accuse the people at City Hall for knowing that they were doing things badly.”

Even though prosecutors did not formally target former Madrid Municipal Police chief Emilio Monteagudo over the tragedy, examining judge Eduardo López-Palop ordered him to stand trial for not controlling the outside drinking party.

“The outside drinking party was not the only cause, but it was one of the causes and, because the Municipal Police were in charge of preventing this, the person responsible must answer for his negligence,” the judge said in a writ.

Prosecutors also declined to charge two Madrid councilors in the case.

The trial is expected to last between five and six months, according to prosecutors.

English version by Martin Delfín.