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ECHR: Finland violated "right to life" of 2008 school shooting victims

The European Court of Human Rights says that not confiscating the perpetrator's gun violated the rights of his victims.

Luokkahuoneen katto ja seinät ovat osittain palaneet ja mustuneet.
Ten people were killed by a gunman at the Kauhajoki College of Hospitality in September 2008. Image: Poliisi

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the State of Finland committed a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights when Finnish authorities failed to take sufficient precautionary measures to protect citizens who became the victims of a school shooting.

On Tuesday, 23 September 2008, a 22-year-old man walked into his classroom at the College of Hospitality in Kauhajoki and opened fire. Ten people were killed - some died instantly, others died later in hospital. The man then turned the gun on himself.

In a 6-1 ruling announced on Thursday, the European Court of Human Rights found that Finnish authorities were derelict ensuring Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees everyone the right to life.

The court's finding was that although the authorities could not have been aware of an imminent threat to the victims, confiscation of the weapon would have been a sensible and lawful precaution, and failure to do so violated the duty of care.

The Finnish state has been ordered to pay compensation of 30,000 euros to the families of each victim and and an additional 7,000 euros per family to cover legal costs.

The European Court of Human Rights cannot change or overturn the decisions of a national authority or courts. But, if a Member State is found to have violated human rights, it can be ordered to pay compensation.

The families of the victims of the 2008 shooting took the case to the court in 2012, following a Supreme Court ruling.

The shooter, Matti Saari, a student at the college, posted several videos on YouTube during the weeks before the shooting showing himself firing a pistol. He was questioned by police, but no further action was taken. The Vaasa Court of Appeal issued the officer in charge with a warning of negligent misconduct for not temporarily confiscating the weapon at the time.

The families of the victims sought a charge of wilful misconduct and negligent homicide against the officer. The Supreme Court did not grant leave to appeal.

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