A report investigating police handling of a triple murder on a bus near Årdal last November has found several critical flaws in the emergency response. The review found that while getting their faster wouldn’t have saved lives, the operations centre was understaffed, police should have had better access to weapons, and the responsibility lies with the chief of police.
A 31-year-old man from South Sudan is in custody over the stabbing murders of a Valdresekspressen bus driver and a Swedish man, both in their 50s, and a 19-year-old woman on November 4 last year. Firefighters reached the scene before police and arrested the alleged murderer. His application for asylum had been rejected some months earlier, and the man was due to be deported from the asylum centre at Årdal.
Norway’s justice department (Justisdepartementet) demanded the Sogn og Fjordane police review its handling of the case, after criticisms of the slow response time. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported only one person was manning the Sogn og Fjordane operations centre during the first half hour of the Årdal case, despite rules following the July 22, 2011 terror attacks that operations centres must always have at least two people on duty. The first 17 minutes of the response time were deemed critical. At the time, the other operations centre officer was in the jail.
“As police chief, it is my responsibility that the operations centre didn’t have the necessary staffing,” said Ronny Iden, head of the Sogn og Fjordane police district. “After the incident the procedures were immediately changed. I have ensured there will now be two operators on duty, and if someone performs tasks in the jail at the same time, they’ll have communications equipment with them so they’re immediately available to the operations centre.”
NRK reported critical information phoned in by witnesses, including “multiple fatalities” and “a person armed with a knife” was never passed on to police and fire fighters heading to the crime scene. Iden said there was no reason to criticize the route the officers on patrol had taken, given the information they had.
The report was also critical of the fact there was no gun in the patrol car, despite a policy requiring the “forward storage” of weapons in police vehicles. “We note the police chief in Sogn og Fjordane has implemented necessary measures to ensure forward storage and the necessary capacity at the operations centre,” Kaare Songstad from the Police Directorate (Politidirektoratet) told NRK. “We expect that he continually follows this up so that preparedness is safeguarded in a proper way.”
The man accused of the killings remains in custody in Bergen, after being transferred out of hospital. He has denied the charges and resisted police questioning. Last week he was remanded in custody in full isolation for another month, but did not appear in court. Lawyer Fredrik Verling argued the man couldn’t appear because his health has deteriorated, and he is seriously ill.