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JANUARY 16, 2003

The trial that will not go away

On November 22 1999 the Court of Appeal in Bologna ruled that Patrick Head and Adrian Newey were not responsible for the death of Ayrton Senna on May 1 1994 during the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola. The decision came after years of investigations and legal actions and seemed to bring an end to the whole sorry business. However the prosecutors involved have finally asked for the case to be reviewed once again and applied to the Italian Supreme Court (known as La Corte Suprema di Cassazione). Sources in Italy say that the court has just agreed to re-examine the judgement - nearly nine years after the accident occurred.

The Supreme Court is the highest court in Italy and can only examine whether or not the appeal process was correctly carried out and whether the law was properly applied. It can, if it sees fit, cancel the appeal sentence but cannot consider any new facts or listen to new witnesses. The decision of the appeal judge is definitive in this respect.

Head and Newey were charged with "culpable homicide" in December 1996 after a lengthy investigation into the crash. The investigating magistrate Maurizio Passarini had first asked for a technical report to analyze the accident and this was not completed until December 1995. Passarini then continued his own investigations for a year before the charges were finally brought. Passarini asked for a suspended one-year jail sentence for both men but this was rejected by an Imola court in December 1997 although the court did not rule about the cause of the crash and so the prosecutors decided to try again under appeal. The appeal court judge Francesco Agnoli said that the prosecution offered "no proof of blame" and so the appeal was dismissed.

The F1 teams and the FIA have already warned Italy that the future of international racing in the country is under threat if it does not modify its culpable homicide laws but to date nothing has been done. The latest news will not go down in F1 circles where there are more and more worries about accidents in Italy, particularly in the light of the recent decision by the British government to sign up for the legislation now being enacted concerning European-wide arrest warrants. There are worries that the new laws would create a situation in which team owners in one country could be imprisoned in another, even if the manslaughter rules of the two countries are very different.