South Korea crowd crush: Police seek manslaughter and negligence charges against officials | World News

An investigation into last year’s Halloween crush in the South Korean capital, in which nearly 160 people died, says 23 officials should be charged for an alleged lack of safety measures.

Police are seeking criminal charges, including involuntary manslaughter and negligence, against them – about half of whom are law enforcement officers.

It comes after the probe stated police and public officials failed to bring in adequate crowd control for the thousands of partygoers on the day of the tragedy in Seoul on Saturday 29 October.

They are also accused of ignoring calls to police hotlines that warned of a swelling crowd hours before the surge in the nightlife district Itaewon turned deadly in the evening.

Rescue workers struggled to access the incident

Investigators also said officials botched their response once people started getting pushed over and crushed in a narrow alley clogged with partygoers near Hamilton Hotel around 10pm.

And they failed to establish effective control of the scene and allow rescue teams to reach the injured in time, the investigators added.

In the disaster, a total of 158 people died and 196 were wounded.

Despite anticipating a weekend crowd of more than 100,000, police had assigned 137 officers to Itaewon on the day of the crush.

Those officers were focused on monitoring drug use and violent crimes, which experts say left few resources for pedestrian safety.

Son Je-han, who headed the National Police Agency’s special investigation into the incident, said the case will now be sent to prosecutors.

A street in Seoul's Itaewon district is pictured full of people before a stampede during Halloween festivities

Mr Son said of the officials: “(Their) inaccurate judgement of the situation, the slow distribution of information about the situation, poor co-operation between related institutions and delays in rescue operations were among the overlapping failures that caused the high number of casualties.”

The mayor of Seoul’s Yongsan district, Park Hee-young, and the district’s former police chief, Lee Im-jae, are among those who have been arrested and who investigators say should be prosecuted.

Mr Lee has also been accused of falsifying a police report to disguise his late arrival to the scene.

Two other police officials have been arrested over suspicions they tried to destroy computer files and other potential evidence connected to the disaster.

Opposition politicians and relatives’ victims have called for more high-profile figures to be investigated such as interior and safety minister, Lee Sang-min, and National Police Agency commissioner general Yoon Hee-keun. They have faced calls to resign.

National Police Agency Commissioner Yoon Hee-geun speaks during a press conference after the crowd crush that happened during Halloween festivities at the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency in Seoul, South Korea, November 1, 2022. REUTERS/Heo Ran
National Police Agency commissioner general Yoon Hee-keun, among other officials, has faced pressure to resign

However, probes will end into the Interior and Safety Ministry, the National Police agency, and the Seoul Metropolitan Government, with investigators saying it was difficult to establish their direct responsibility.

What happened?

Some experts have called the crush in Itaewon a “manmade disaster”.

The crowd density was so much on the night of the tragedy that around nine to 11 people were occupying the same space – roughly a square metre – at the same time.

Paramedics struggled to reach the scene because the area was so densely packed.

Those who managed to access the scene couldn’t cope with the sheer number of casualties that they asked pedestrians to help them perform CPR.

Most of the deaths were caused by suffocation or brain damage.

Experts say the incident could have been prevented by more monitoring of bottleneck points, enforcing one-way walk lanes, blocking narrow pathways or temporarily closing Itaewon’s subway station to prevent large numbers of people moving in the same direction.

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