According to the ruling published on the ECHR website, in addition to the €13,000 in compensation, the Portuguese state must pay more than €7,000 in legal costs and fees.
The ECHR found that the investigation by the authorities did not meet the requirements for the protection of the right to life, especially since a series of urgent steps could have been taken shortly after the incident in December 2013 in which six students died who were taking part in an initiation ceremony for new students on the beach, south of Lisbon.
However, it took the view that there was no legal vacuum where the practices of student initiations were concerned, since Portuguese legislation already has a set of “criminal, civil and disciplinary provisions aimed at preventing, suppressing and punishing circumstances that endanger people’s lives or their physical or psychological integrity.
“While acknowledging the undoubtedly tragic nature of this case, the Court did not consider that the [Portuguese] State failed in its obligations relating to Article 2 and [that it could] be held responsible for the death of the son of Soares Campos” – the father of Tiago André Campos, the ECHR said.
The court states that the petitioner Soares Campos, whose son died when he was dragged into the sea by a wave while taking part in an initiation ceremony on the beach at Meco, claimed that the death of his son had been caused by the lack of a legal structure regulating the practice of such activities at Portuguese universities and complained that the investigation by the authorities into the circumstances of the student’s death had been ineffective.
In their ruling, the judges point to several flaws in the investigation, starting with the fact that the house where the victims were staying could have been sealed off, with access barred to all persons not connected to the investigation, in order to prevent any contamination or loss of evidence.
“The Court was particularly impressed by the fact that J.G. [João Gouveia, sole survivor of the incident] and his relatives, the families of the victims and third parties had unrestricted access to the house,” the ruling states.
It also says that forensic inspection of the house where the students were staying was delayed, only occurring on 11 February 2014 - almost two months after the tragedy.
“Items from the house and Meco beach contained potential and important sensitive information regarding the [students] concerned,” it notes. “Isolating these items for investigative purposes would have prevented any interference from several people and [the failure to do so] prevented the police from recovering them later.”
The ECHR also takes the view that the clothes worn on the night of the tragedy by the only survivor, as well as his computer, could have been seized immediately and subjected to forensic examination, but this was only done in March 2014.
Another of the measures that the court considers should have been taken more urgently was a reconstruction of events on the beach, with the involvement of the only survivor. That, too, “did not happen until 14 February 2014,” it notes.
The ECHR also laments the authorities’ failure to swiftly collect testimony from people present nearby, including the neighbours and the owner of the house where the students were staying.
“These people did not testify until 8 and 10 February, that is, a month and a half after the events,” it notes.
It also points out that the investigation did not move ahead at speed until it was taken over by the office of public prosecutions at Almada, more than a month after the deaths.
The deaths took place on 15 December 2013 and, after the discovery of the body of Tiago Campos, the following day, a criminal inquiry was opened into the circumstances of the deaths of the young people. It was shelved in July 2014 but reopened in October of the same year, when Gouveia – the ‘dux’ or leader of the initiation ceremony – was named as a person of interest in the case.
In March 2015 a court decided not to send the case for trial and the appeal court in Évora upheld that decision, arguing that the victims were adults and had not been deprived of their freedom during the ceremony, so there was no criminal liability for Gouveia.
The victims’ parents in 2016 took out civil actions against Gouveia and the university, seeking €150,000 for each victim. Tiago Campos’s father also filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights, which was lodged on 27 May 2016, based on the claim that Portugal had violated Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights — the article providing for the right to life.