Human rights court rules against Finland in mass shooting case

Ten people were killed by Matti Juhani Saari in the Kauhajoki college - he had received a gun license from police just a few months before the shooting.

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File picture showing exterior of European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg / Credit: iStock

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has ruled against Finland in the case of a 2008 mass shooting incident, saying that authorities failed to take action against the killer. The court has ordered the Finnish state to pay €30,000 to the families of each victim, plus up to €6,818 in legal costs.

Nine students and a teacher were killed at the Seinäjoki University of Applied Sciences in the town of Kauhajoki. After the shooting spree, and setting fires inside the college building, gunman Matti Juhani Saari shot himself in the head. He was found by police, still alive, but died in hospital from his injuries.

Today in Strasbourg seven judges – including one from Finland – ruled six votes to one,  that while authorities could not have known of the “real and immediate risk” to the students and teacher, the police had “failed to observe their duty of diligence and seize the killer’s weapons before the attack.”

Police knew about posts that Saari had put online, and had interviewed him before the attack. However they decided not to confiscate his weapons. The court finds that such a confiscation would have been a “reasonable precaution” which would also have been allowed under Finnish law.

“The failure to take that step meant the authorities had not fulfilled their special duty of diligence flowing from the particularly high level of risk inherent in any misconduct involving the use of firearms” the Court of Human Rights says in its judgment.

Saari had received a gun license from the police just a few months before the deadly assault on the college.

After the shooting the case was brought to court in Finland, with criminal charges against the Detective Chief Inspector who interviewed Saari about some of his internet postings, and who decided he didn’t pose a danger to society.

Finnish courts found him guilty in 2011 of negligence in not confiscating Saari’s gun; but not guilty of being responsible for the deaths because of his inaction.

Appeals by the victims’ families to Finland’s Supreme Court were unsuccessful so they took it to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg for a ruling. The case was first lodged in Strasbourg almost exactly eight years ago.