24 people died in a gas explosion in Ghislenghien, near Ath in Hainaut province, in July 2004. 132 suffered terrible burn injuries. The court in Tournai (Doornik, Hainaut province) found that Fluxys cannot be held responsible for the gas disaster.
"The gas company could not know that a gas leak had occurred. It acted right in alerting fire services as soon as it knew something was wrong", judges at Tournai explained. The court argued that the safety at the site was, from that moment on, the responsibility of the fire services and not Fluxys.
The conclusion reached by the Tournai court is a small surprise. Earlier, the public prosecutor had designated Fluxys as the main defendant. Diamont Boart, the company in charge of part of the works at the site, was also on top of his list. However, just like Fluxys, Diamont Boart was cleared.
Victims of the disaster were very disappointed that both Fluxys and Diamont Boart were acquitted (see video).
Architect found responsible
14 parties stood accused at the trial. 11 were acquitted, 3 were found responsible, including an architect, the construction company Tramo and the man in charge of the works when the pipe line was hit. They were all accused of involuntary manslaughter.
An architect has been convicted. The court ruled that he should not have allowed that a heavy power shovel was used for digging works just above a gas pipeline. The architect was responsible for safety measures at the site during the works, the court ruled.
Biggest industrial disaster since 1956
The explosion in Ghislenghien took place on 30 July 2004. More than a month before the explosion, on 24 June, a power shovel struck an underground gas pipe while digging at a construction site in Ghislenghien. The damage was reported but there was no follow up at that time.
On the day of the explosion, at 6.30 a.m. Fluxys was adverted to the fact that there was a gas leak. It was not until 8.15 that the emergency services were alerted.
The police and fire department arrived at 8.30. At that moment there was complete chaos at the building site. An organised quick evacuation from the site was impossible.
The gas company had shut the gas flow off completely but too much gas had already escaped and a major explosion occurred at 8.55. The explosion resulted in a huge jet of flames and the vibration was felt in a radius of 10 kilometres.
The fireball burned everything and everyone in its path. 24 people were killed, including 5 firemen. 132 people sustained terrible burn injuries.
The gas explosion in Ghislenghien is Belgium's biggest industrial disaster since the mining disaster in Marcinelle in 1956 in which 262 were killed.