Muslim pilgrims walk past a collapsed crane that killed more than 100 people at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia Image Credit: AP

Dubai: The Mecca Criminal Court issued a ruling acquitting 13 defendants in the Grand Mosque Crane crash, including Saudi Binladin Group, local media reported. In its new verdict issued on Wednesday, the court found nothing new except what it was earlier ruled in the crane crash case. The court will send a copy of the verdict to the Court of Appeal to decide on the issue.

In an earlier verdict issued on October 1, 2017, the Mecca Criminal Court acquitted the 13 defendants who were charged with negligence. The court said the defendants are not criminally responsible for the incident in which 108 people lost their lives and another 238 were injured when a crane involved in the Grand Mosque expansion project crashed on September 11, 2015.

In its previous judgment, the court ruled that the disaster was caused by heavy rains and thunderstorms, rather than human error or fault.

“The crane was in an upright, correct and safe position. There was no error committed by the accused, who took all the necessary safety measures,” the court said in its decision. The Attorney General challenged the verdict and appealed it.

In December 2017, the Appeals Court upheld the previous ruling of the Criminal Court. The Appeals Court cited that the crane, though placed in a safe position, toppled due to a severe thunderstorm and violent winds. The Appeals Court asked the Criminal Court to re-examine the case.

The court issued the new verdict after re-examining the entire aspects of the crane crash case.

The court noted that the General Authority of Meteorology and Environmental Protection issued a bulletin on weather conditions on the day of the accident and the day before it, and the warning showed that the wind speed in the Red Sea ranged between one and 38 kilometres per hour only, and did not include warning of the weather conditions with a possibility of hurricanes.

The court observed that there was no mention in the lawsuit about the warning of the General Authority of Meteorology and Environmental Protection that this disaster would happen. The court also indicated that what happened in Makkah that day could be attached to a celestial phenomenon that was difficult to predict. Hence, the defendants cannot be held accountable for the tragedy.

The Court of Appeal stressed, in its earlier ruling, the need to clarify, define and know precisely the tasks of the safety division of the Haram expansion project, since the company, which is executing the project, has an integrated department for monitoring weather fluctuations, which means that it is fully responsible for detecting and forecasting weather conditions and does not need to wait for meteorological reports.

The Court of Appeal also drew attention to the response of an official among the defendants that he was not informed of the outbreak of the storm on the day of the crane tragedy, as it occurred on Friday during which he was on leave. The appeals court’s remarks emphasized that none of the accused officials indicated that there was a special meteorology unit associated with the project.

The court also noted the dereliction of duty on the part of the Environmental Department affiliated to the Department of Safety and its role in collecting reports on weather conditions and preparing daily reports. The court also directed the court of first instance to examine this aspect of the incident.