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Arson trial: Pupils played with fire at school complex - out of boredom

Arson trial : Pupils played with fire at school complex - out of boredom

Two female and two male pupils intentionally caused a fire in July 2017 at the school complex in Königswinter-Oberpleis. They now admitted everything, but it took an eight-strong investigation team months to charge them.

It could have been an even bigger disaster if the fire brigade wouldn’t have been called just in time. And it appeared quickly that the fire on July 2, 2017 at the school complex in Königswinter-Oberpleis had been caused by arsonists.

Eventually, and after lengthy investigations, it became clear: Two then-18-year-old boys, a 16-year-old girl and another 15-year-old female pupil were responsible for the blaze. The three older ones had set fire to a paper container at the wall of the school building, while the 15-year-old kept watch. On Wednesday the quartet appeared in front of the Youth Criminal Court in Bonn and admitted the charges.

They were charged with intentional joint arson by the public prosecution because they had accepted that the whole building caught fire. When the fire brigade arrived, the blaze had already taken over parts of the building. The damage which the building insurance is now claiming from the four young people jointly and severally, was estimated to be around 140.000 Euro.

Lies and false statements as cover-up

It wasn’t the arson alone which appalled the public prosecutor: The four young accused had lied, given false statements and arranged reports amongst each other to cover-up what they did. They even went as far as involving one of their fathers to approach a friend in the police force to accuse one of the police officers working on the case of wrongful questioning techniques.

The investigation effort was described by the 55-year-old officer at the witness stand like this: It took eight investigators three quarters of year to expose the teenagers’ concealment attempts and tissue(s) of lies. Two IT experts had to interpret text messages of the quartet for months to find out what had been going on.

In 18 years of being a fire investigator the police officer had never experienced anything similar: „In hindsight I was surprised how they all lied to us. We walked into the wall as if we were blind. The time and staff effort was gigantic and utterly disproportionate.“ The size of the operation was similar to homicide investigations. And: „None of the young people had shown any remorse.“

Confession after three weeks detention

Eventually an arrest warrant was issued against one of the 18-year-old pupils, for risks of absconding and danger of collusion. For three weeks he remained detained until he admitted everything. He also made a full confession in court.

His defending lawyer, Martin Kretschmer, explained: the four of them had partied that evening, drank alcohol and came up with the disastrous idea to light a cardboard box. After that burnt down, they lit the fire in the container and headed off. Kretschmer’s client went back to fetch his jacket and saw the container burning. He didn’t want the school to burn. The 18-year-old admitted cover-ups and that he lied at all levels.

His buddy also admitted that he had been present but claims he cannot remember playing with fire. The others accuse him of being the idea provider. The 16-year-old girl also admitted everything. She did not take part in the cover-ups, her brother took care of that. She was the first one to confess to the police and admit everything.

The fourth teenager found it difficult to admit in court that she was part of the cover-ups, but was approached harshly by the public prosecution and little by little confessed her participation.

According to the police officer at the witness stand she had been particularly defiant: „And that, despite wanting to become a police woman herself one day.“

(Original text: Rita Klein; Translation: Mareike Graepel)