South Korean police blame negligence for deadly Halloween crush



South Korean police on Friday blamed negligence and planning failures for last year’s Halloween mass shooting in Seoul that killed more than 150 people.

Dozens of young costumed revelers, mostly women in their 20s, died in the October 29 disaster in the capital’s popular Itaewon nightlife area.

A special team that spent months reviewing evidence and interviewing officials said at the end of its investigation that there had been massive failures of planning and response, but stopped short of blaming any senior government or agency official for national police

“Organizations that are legally required to prevent and respond to disasters – the police, district offices and the Seoul subway – did not establish safety measures in advance or come up with poor plans,” said Sohn Jae-han, the head of the team, to the journalists.

“Proper measures were not taken even after rescue requests were received” on the day of the disaster, he said.

Poor cooperation between agencies and delays in communications and relief efforts contributed to the higher death toll, he added.

Victims’ family groups said they were not satisfied with the results of the inquest.

Lee Jong-chul, the leader of one such group, said it was impossible for the police to fairly and impartially investigate their own officers, and called for a fully independent investigation.

“I didn’t trust this, ever since the special investigation team started investigating the Itaewon disaster,” he told local media.

He told Yonhap news agency that it was disappointing, but predictable, that senior officials, including the interior minister and Seoul’s mayor, have not been investigated.

-South Korea: hours before the disaster –

Sohn said the area had become very busy from 5pm on the day of the incident, hours before the disaster unfolded.

The density of people reached the critical level of the “fluidity phenomenon” – when so many people are crammed into a space that they are forced to move as one, like a liquid – at 21:00, he added.

But still, the authorities did not intervene.

The first fall occurred around 10:15 p.m., said Kim Dong-wook, a spokesman for the investigation team, adding that at least four more people fell in the next fifteen seconds, causing the crush .

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“Unaware of this situation, the crowds at the top continued to push through the alley for 10 minutes, until 10:25 p.m., causing hundreds of people to pile up and become trapped more than 10 meters away, causing the ‘crush,’ Kim said.

Six people have been arrested in connection with the investigation, including Lee Im-jae, the former chief of the Yongsan Police Station, which oversees Itaewon, and Park Hee-young, the head of the Yongsan District Office .

Both Lee and Park are being held on charges of professional negligence causing death.

In December, a teenager who had survived the crush was found dead in an apparent suicide, and officials ruled he should be considered a casualty of the disaster, raising the death toll to 159.

– No senior government official responsible –

But the team did not blame any officials from the Seoul city government, the interior ministry or the national policy agency, Sohn said, as it was “difficult to conclude that there was a concrete breach of duty.” .

Interior Minister Lee Sang-min has faced mounting pressure to resign over the tragedy.

Shortly after the crush, he was widely criticized for claiming that having more fire and police personnel in Itaewon would not have prevented the disaster.

READ ALSO: More than 140 dead in Seoul on Halloween, authorities say

He has since apologized on several occasions, including in person last week to the victims’ families, but has not offered to resign.

South Korea’s rapid transformation from an impoverished, war-torn backwater to Asia’s fourth-largest economy and a global cultural powerhouse is a source of its national pride.

But a series of preventable disasters, such as the Halloween crush and the 2014 Sewol ferry sinking that killed 304 people, have shaken public trust in the authorities.

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