Norway police 'could have stopped Breivik sooner'
- 13 August 2012
- From the section Europe
Norway's police could have prevented the bombing of central Oslo and caught mass killer Anders Behring Breivik faster, an official report says.
The independent inquiry says his subsequent shooting spree on Utoeya Island could have been halted earlier.
Police took an "unacceptable" amount of time to get to the island, it says.
Breivik has admitted killing 77 people and wounding more than 240 others when he bombed central Oslo and then opened fire at a youth camp on Utoeya.
A verdict in Breivik's trial is due on 24 August. He claimed he was trying to stop Muslims from taking over Norway.
Among the most damaging of the report's conclusions is that a two-man local police team reached the lake shore at Utvika first, but chose to wait for better-trained colleagues rather than find a boat and cross to Utoeya themselves.
Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said he deeply regretted the mistakes that had been made and took responsibility for what had happened but stopped short of saying there would be ministerial resignations.
The inquiry, headed by lawyer Alexandra Bech Gjoerv, came up with 31 recommendations but most damning were its findings that
- The attack on the government complex in Oslo could have been prevented by effective implementation of security measures that had already been approved
- A more rapid police operation to protect people on Utoeya Island was a realistic possibility and the gunman could have been stopped earlier on 22 July
- More security and emergency measures to prevent further attacks and "mitigate adverse effects" should have been implemented on 22 July
Presenting the 482-page report, the inquiry team questioned why the street outside the prime minister's office, Grubbegata, was not closed to traffic as recommended seven years before.
The report also gives details of a phone-call made by a pedestrian 10 minutes after the Oslo bomb went off, giving police a good description of a man carrying a pistol and wearing protective clothing.
The operator passed the message on but the tip-off was not followed up for some two hours, the report says.
Although it was clear that a terrorist attack had been carried out, the inquiry says no immediate nationwide alert was given, no roadblocks or observation posts were set up, no attempt was made to mobilise helicopters nor did the operation centre take up offers from neighbouring police districts.
The operation centre was "simply overloaded", the report concludes, to the extent that staff did little to prevent further attacks during "the acute phase".
In the aftermath of the attacks, police were criticised for their failure to use a helicopter once alerted to the shootings, and for the bungled attempt to reach the island on an inflatable boat.
That criticism is echoed by the commission, which in its findings details the "unacceptable" 35 minutes police took to cross the 600m (2,000ft) from the lake shore to the island
- As early as 17:25 local time, shootings were reported on Utoeya
- Within five minutes, police were contacted by a boat captain offering his vessel but the message was not acted on
- The first local police patrol arrived at 17:55, but the two officers did not try to find a boat despite guidelines recommending an immediate response to gun attacks
- An 11-strong elite Delta force team from Oslo arrived 14 minutes later
- They were forced to abandon their own overloaded dinghy for two civilian boats and landed on Utoeya at 18:27
- They could have reached the island at 18:15, the commission suggests
Most of the dead were young activists who were taking part in a summer camp on Utoeya run by the governing Labour Party.
The special commission said that although Norway's domestic intelligence agency, the PST, could have become aware of Breivik before 22 July, it did not contend that the service "could and should have stopped the attacks".
There was also praise for the government's communication with the public and the report said it was satisfied that health services had responded effectively.
The attacks, regarded as the worst act of violence in Norway since World War II, sparked a national debate about the nature of tolerance and democracy in the country.
The panel of five trial judges will have to rule on Breivik's sanity when they deliver their verdict.
Their conclusion will determine whether he is given a long prison sentence or is sent to a secure psychiatric ward.
Breivik's 10-week trial was marked by harrowing testimony from witnesses about his shootings. Some victims were shot in the head at point-blank range. In the meticulously planned attack, Breivik wore a fake police uniform and methodically hunted down victims on the island.
He refused to plead guilty, evoking the "principle of necessity". He accused the Labour Party of promoting multiculturalism and endangering Norway's identity.