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South Korean Police recommend officials face manslaughter charges over Halloween crowd crush deaths

South Korean Police recommend officials face manslaughter charges over Halloween crowd crush deaths
March 20, 2023

A special investigation into a crowd crush during Halloween celebrations in the South Korean capital of Seoul last October which killed more than 150 people has recommended involuntary manslaughter and negligence charges be brought against 23 officials.

The Korean National Police Agency investigation team cited a lack of safety measures as the cause of the Halloween crowd surge as well as that local police failed to control the scene and ignored calls from pedestrians hours in advance of the crush that caused the deaths

Despite anticipating a weekend crowd of more than 100,000 people for the Halloween events in Itaewon, Seoul's nightlife district, local police assigned just 137 officers for the area.

These officers were focused on monitoring narcotics use and violent crimes, which experts said left few resources for pedestrian safety.

Son Je-han, who headed the investigation, said his team would now send the case to prosecutors.

Those recommended for indictment include Yongsan district Mayor Park Hee-young and the district's former Police Chief Lee Im-jae - two of six people who have been arrested.

The results of the 74-day police investigation announced by Son mostly confirmed what was already clear - that police and public officials in Yongsan failed to employ meaningful crowd-control measures for the expected number of Halloween revellers.

Son said they also essentially ignored pedestrian calls placed to police hotlines that warned of a swelling crowd hours before the surge let to fatalities on 28th October.

Officials were also found to have failed in their responses once people began getting crushed at a narrow alley with Son adding that they failed to establish effective control of the scene and allow rescue workers to reach the injured in time.

At a news conference in Seoul, Son stated “inaccurate judgement of the situation, the slow distribution of information about the situation, poor cooperation between related institutions and delays in rescue operations were among the overlapping failures that caused the high number of casualties.”
Opposition politicians and some relatives of the victims have demanded investigations into more high-profile figures.

The figures include South Korean Interior and Safety Minister Lee Sang-min and National Police Agency Commissioner General Yoon Hee-keun, who have faced calls to resign.

However, Son said the special investigation team would close its probes on the Interior and Safety Ministry, the National Police Agency and the Seoul Metropolitan Government.

He noted it was difficult to establish their direct responsibility.

Crowd management experts have called the crush a "man-made disaster" that could have been prevented with fairly simple steps, such as employing more police and public workers to monitor bottleneck points.

Officials could also have enforced one-way walk lanes, blocked narrow pathways or temporarily closed Itaewon's subway station to prevent large numbers of people moving in the same direction.

With AP.

Images: Flowers and memorial messages for the Halloween crowd crush victims at Seoul's Itaewon subway station (top) and the alley were many of the deaths occured, closed off after the fatalities (below). Credit: Shutterstock.

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