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French court sentences four over 2009 Madonna stage collapse

A judge in the southern city of Marseille, where the concert was to take place, convicted the four of involuntary manslaughter and injuries, while acquitting three others ordered to stand trial.

FILE: US pop singer Madonna. Picture: AFP.

MARSEILLE - A French court on Wednesday handed suspended prison sentences to four people charged over the collapse of a stage as it was being set up for a 2009 concert by pop superstar Madonna, which killed two workers.

A judge in the southern city of Marseille, where the concert was to take place, convicted the four of involuntary manslaughter and injuries, while acquitting three others ordered to stand trial.

Eight other workers sustained injuries in the accident, which occurred when one of four cranes putting up metal scaffolding for the stage knocked into the structure's roof on July 16, 2009 -- three days before the show.

A 10-year investigation determined the cause was the misplacement of a cable sling being used by the crane to hoist up a roof corner -- a last-minute decision after the failure of two winches normally used for such a job.

Just as the piece was inches from being installed, the sling was sheared after getting caught on a scaffolding tube, prompting the entire structure to collapse.

Charles Criscenzo, 52, of France and Charles Prow, a 23-year-old Briton, were killed at Marseille's Velodrome stadium, and one of the injured workers committed suicide two years later.

"The operations of these companies revealed a pursuit of profitability over safety," presiding judge Marie-Pierre Attali told the court.

"If everything had been carried out in accordance with the law, this accident would not have happened, and in any event nobody would have been injured."

‘LIBERATED’

Madonna herself did not appear at the trial, saying she was not involved in the technical details and denying any pressure to build the stage more quickly. She did present her condolences to the victims' families.

"I feel relieved, liberated," said Julien Pascal, who was suspended from the structure by a rope harness when the accident occurred.

"I just hope this makes concert promoters think about us more -- too often they still consider us just pawns," he told AFP after the ruling.

Jacqueline Bitton, 73, at the time head of the French operations for the US concert promoter Live Nation, received the most severe sentence, a suspended two-year prison term and a fine of 20,000 euros ($24,000).

Tim Norman, 65, head of the British firm Edwin Shirley Group (ESG) that owned the stage, received a suspended two-year term as well as a 15,000 euro fine.

A manager at a French subcontractor hired by ESG, Tour Concept France, was given a suspended 18-month sentence and a 10,000 euro fine, while a British foreman hired for the job by ESG got 18 months suspended.

Live Nation France was ordered to pay a 150,000 euro fine, and Tour Concept 50,000 euros.

Bitton's lawyer Eric Morain said he would appeal over what he called "judicial errors," denouncing a conviction that includes a prohibition on her working for two years.

Morain said the result would be "social death," since Bitton is supposed to organise a coming French concert by Canadian star Celine Dion.

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