ESEKA, Cameroon (Reuters) - Cameroonian rail operator Camrail and eleven other defendants were found guilty of involuntary manslaughter on Wednesday in connection with a train derailment that killed 79 people and wounded over 600 in October 2016.
The packed train operated by Camrail, a unit of French industrial group Bollore, came off the tracks in the town of Eseka en route from the capital Yaounde to the central African country’s port city of Douala .
Eseka district judge Marcel Ndigui Ndigui ruled that Camrail and 11 of the 14 individual defendants were guilty of “dangerous activities and involuntary manslaughter”.
Camrail’s former chief executive Didier Vandenbon was among those convicted. He was sentenced to six months in prison, while others received prison terms of between three and five months. Three defendants were found not guilty.
Me Massi Ngakele, a lawyer for one of the victims, welcomed the ruling. “It’s a historic day after a time of tears. Now is the time to hope.”
Bollore declined immediate comment.
The trial comes after a government inquiry last year that found that Camrail was mainly to blame for the derailment as the train was going at more than twice the speed limit, was overloaded and its brakes were defective
Additional reporting by Benoit Van Overstraeten in Paris; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Robin Pomeroy