Families of victims of the Utøya shootings are considering legal action against both the police and the Norwegian state for failings which allowed Anders Behring Breivik to commit the worst spree killing by a single gunman ever to occur in peacetime.
69 people were killed on the island on 22nd July 2011. The victims were mainly children and young people.
These fatalities were in addition to the eight who lost their lives due to the bomb he planted outside government headquarters in Oslo preceding the island of Utøya massacre the same day.
The 22nd July Commission report published last year was heavily critical of both the police and the state. It pointed to systemic failings that made the attacks less preventable, and led to poor decision-making and failures to pass on relevant and potentially life-saving information.
Amongst the most damning facts to emerge from the report was that police had received an accurate description of Breivik over the telephone, along with the licence plate number of his vehicle he used to travel to the island. The employee who took the call failed to pass the information on, however.
The first two police officers to arrive at the scene hid behind a skip on the mainland, despite being 700 metres from Utøya.
Officer at at an event to mark July 22 anniversary
©2013 Ben McPherson/The ForeignerA police helicopter could not be mobilised because only two pilots were qualified to fly it and both were on holiday.
Police emergency phone networks were inadequate to handle the stream of calls coming in, with major gaps in emergency network coverage.
Jarl Robert Christensen, whose 15-year-old daughter Birgitte Smetbak that Breivik had shot twice, told Norwegian daily Aftenposten he believes “The political process in Parliament after the 22nd July Commission report has led nowhere.”
“It just played to the gallery. That’s why it’s important that we consider where legal responsibility lies for all the police errors.”
Birgitte Smetbak died of bullet wounds after waiting three hours for help to arrive. She was not evacuated until 20:15 approximately an hour and 40 minutes after Breivik had been arrested. Her father is one of many bereaved parents preparing to sue.
Impromptu memorial erected a year after the murders
©2013 Ben McPherson/The ForeignerThe report has not led to significant action on the part of the state, but it establishes a very clear timeline, as well as attributing responsibility for failings. It therefore provides a legal basis for court cases against both the government and police.
“In my view the bereaved need to have this cleared up,” Mette Yvonne Larsen told Aftenposten. She acted as a representative of the bereaved in the 10-week long court case in which Breivik was found guilty and sentenced to Norway’s maximum jail term of 21 years.
“It’s important to have a reliable clarification of who is responsible. It’s only natural with the 22nd July Commission’s report as a basis and in the knowledge of the enormous losses suffered,” she said.
One of the report’s key findings was that the authorities failed to protect people on Utøya, and that Breivik could have been stopped earlier. A legal investigation will establish who can be sued.
Likely candidates include the Ministry of Justice, the Directorate of Police, and the police chiefs who ran operations.