Convictions handed down in boating tragedy

Prosecutor wanted a stiffer prison sentence, but is content that the school has been fined 250,000 kroner

Lundby Efterskole school headteacher Truels Achton Truelsen was handed a 60-day suspended prison sentence when the verdict fell today over the boating tragedy that left one teacher dead and several students seriously injured two years ago.

The school was also ordered by the court in Nykøbing Falster to pay 25 separate fines of 10,000 kroner each and Truelsen was banned from organising sea activities for the students for the next three years.

Both the school and the headteacher were found guilty of causing grievous bodily harm, irresponsible sailing, and a failure to comply with sea safety rules. They were found innocent of manslaughter, and are now considering whether or not to appeal the decision.

Prosecuting attorney Michael Boolsen said that the sentence was acceptable, despite originally wanting several months prison time for the headteacher.

"The court has pretty much followed all of my remarks from the hearing in their reasoning for their decision. So I have to consider their decision a satisfactory result,” Boolsen told Politiken newspaper. “A certain period of time has elapsed and the court took Truels Truelsen’s good personal standing into account so the suspended sentence is not unsurprising.”

The prosecutor had also argued that the school should be fined “not less than 250,000 kroner” and the school should lose the right to organise activities at sea.

The defence admitted to partial blame, but argued that the majority of the blame should be attributed to the deceased teacher, 44-year-old Michael Jørgensen.

“It can be argued that Michael Jørgensen acted irresponsibly in relation to his position at the school,” defence lawyer Peter Giersing told Politiken.

The court handed down the sentence while contending that the seriousness of the situation was further compounded by the fact that the students were under the age of 18.

The tragedy occurred almost two years ago when two teachers and 13 students, aged 16-18, from Lundby Efterskole were in a flat-bottomed dragon boat that capsized in Præstø Fjord on 11 February 2011, spilling them all into the two-degree water.

Jørgensen died and seven of the students were placed in artificial comas after suffering heart attacks from spending hours in the freezing water. Many of the students suffered brain damage after their body temperatures dropped as low as 15 degrees. One of the students is still hospitalised and has lost the ability to speak or swallow.

Lundby Efterskole was heavily criticised in the days following the accident for committing a number of errors and faults. The children wore swimming vests rather than life jackets, the boat was overloaded, the boat didn’t have emergency flares and not all the children were able to swim.

Additionally, a September 2011 report by Havarikommissionen, the accident investigation board, indicated that the school had underestimated the risk of boating in February.