The release of the 66-year-old architect provoked sighs and tears on the benches of the civil parties in the packed hall of the Angers court.
“The breaches of the architect’s professional obligations, although partially established by elements of the procedure, are without a certain causal link with the collapse of the balcony”, justified the president of the court, during the reading of the judgment.
The only fault of Mr. Rolland having contributed to the collapse “is a simple fault related to the supervision of the construction site” and such a fault “does not engage his criminal liability”, she added.
It is however against Mr. Rolland that the heaviest sentence, four years in prison including two firm, had been required at the beginning of March, after nearly four weeks of hearing.
At the helm, the latter had assured that he had “intervened neither in the design, nor in the drawing, nor went to the site” during the construction of the building in 1997-1998, when he was occupied by the creation of a practice in Shanghai.
Three years in prison, including 18 months suspended, had also been required against the works manager, Éric Morand, 53, who was also released. He had explained that the method of construction of the balconies had been modified to meet the construction deadlines.
The boss of the construction company, Patrick Bonnel, 73, was however sentenced to a three-year suspended prison sentence and a fine of nearly 25,000 euros. At the helm, he recognized a “serious” and “inexcusable” fault, saying he was “ashamed” of the work of his teams.
Mr. Bonnel “did not ensure the training and competence of the site manager and the workers”, which led to a “risk that he could not ignore as a construction professional”, said said the president of the court.
Prosecutor Éric Bouillard had requested three years’ imprisonment, including one year suspended, against him.
The site manager Jean-Marcel Moreau, 63, and the representative of the Apave verification office, André de Douvan, 84, were both sentenced to 18 months suspended prison sentence and 1,000 euros fine, sentences in line with to requisitions.
– Fissure –
On the evening of the tragedy, there were 18 students, in their twenties, chatting on a balcony of the “Le Surcouf” residence, in the center of Angers, when it suddenly fell into a void.
In the rubble, the firefighters had discovered the bodies of Lou, 18, Antoine, 21, Benjamin, 23, and Baptiste, 25. Fourteen other victims were hospitalized.
Investigators had ruled out any responsibility for the guests: the victims, by all accounts, were partying calmly. And the balcony should have been able to support 35 people.
Heard during the trial, the experts had listed a whole series of defects in the construction of the balconies, going so far as to evoke a “form of DIY”.
The work had also been carried out without respecting the plans of the concrete engineer, designed for prefabricated balconies and not for balconies cast on site.
– “war scene” –
During the trial, the victims and their families recounted at length this nightmare evening and the trauma that followed.
“There was a procession of stretchers with ambulances, we rushed to each stretcher to find out if it was our child,” said Antoine’s father, who died at 21.
“There was a horrible, jerky noise (…) I remained glued to the balcony, I lost consciousness then I looked at my body, my hands were bloody. There were screams, tears , it was like a scene of war”, remembered Hugo. “We were still children, it destroyed us.”