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Monte Case Trial Begins……..and Stops!

The trial of the two defendants in the Monte Tree disaster case, which caused the death of 13 people (including two foreign nationals – of French and Hungarian nationalities), and about fifty injuries on the 15th of August 2017, started yesterday.

In the dock of the Court of Central Instance of the District of Madeira, in Funchal, will be the former deputy mayor of Funchal, Idalina Perestrelo, and the head of the gardens of the municipality, Francisco Andrade, each accused of 13 crimes of negligent homicide.

They will also answer for 24 crimes of physical integrity by negligence.

The case comes to trial after the titular judge who will preside over the collective, Joana Dias, has decided to separate the criminal proceedings from the civil compensation to avoid the problem of prescription dates.

On the 15th of August 2017, during the religious ceremonies in honour of the Assumption of Our Lady, a feast also known as the Day of Our Lady of the Mount, the Patroness of Madeira, in one of the busiest areas of the archipelago, a large oak tree, aged approximately 150 years old, fell on the crowd as they waited for the procession. Measuring 29.8 metres in height, the tree had an estimated total weight of 10.4 tons.

This situation gave rise to a judicial process in which the then Vice-Mayor of Funchal, Idalina Perestrelo, responsible for the Urban Environment, Green and Public Spaces, and the head of the Division of Gardens and Green Spaces, Francisco Andrade, were accused.

The investigation phase of this process began on the 4th of October 2019 behind closed doors, having meanwhile been suspended due to the pandemic.

In the investigation phase, the then Mayor of Funchal, Paulo Cafôfo, elected by the Confiança coalition (PS, PND, MPT, PTP, and PAN), was made a defendant, but the Public Prosecutor’s Office ended up not accusing him, as Mayor, he had delegated the work to other members of the team.

The decision was challenged by some, but the case was eventually dropped.

However, due to medical reasons, Idalina Perestrelo did not attend the opening session, although her husband,  Hélder Spinola, was in attendance. Similarly, Francisco Andrade was absent from the proceedings due to personal reasons.

Since the defendants’ representatives indicated that they want to make statements, the court scheduled a hearing to hear the head of the Division of Gardens and Green Spaces on the morning of the 26th of April and to hear the former Deputy Mayor of Funchal on the morning of the following day.

Only one witness was called forward during the morning session. 

On that fateful day, she said, her husband and one of their children went to Largo da Fonte to accompany the religious ceremonies of the Day of Our Lady of the Mount. The woman reminded the court that she was not at the scene, but that she realised something was wrong when she heard the sirens of the emergency services vehicles. Her husband died in the tragedy, and her son was injured.

“All I know is that I am left without my husband, and my five children have no father,” lamented the woman, who also said that, since that date, she has never returned to Largo da Fonte, stating “I’ve never been there again, nor do I want to go.”

After a short initial session, in which only one person was heard, five witness testaments were due to be heard that afternoon.  However, everything stopped as the court officials went on strike!

A new session is scheduled for the 3rd of May, in addition to the two already scheduled defendant hearings.

Samantha Gannon

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