South Korea: Police chief charged over Seoul Halloween crush

Seoul's labyrinth-like neighbourhood of Itaewon - a popular nightlife district - was the scene of a crush in October 2022
Image caption,More than 100,000 people had gone to Seoul’s labyrinth-like nightlife district Itaewon to party

By Thomas Mackintosh

BBC News

Seoul’s chief of police has been charged with negligence more than a year after a Halloween crush left 159 young people dead in South Korea.

Kim Kwang-ho is the highest-ranking police official to be charged in relation to the tragedy, according to local media reports.

He is accused of failing to ensure there were enough officers in Itaewon, central Seoul, on 29 October 2022.

More than 100,000 people had gathered in the area that night.

Some of the victims’ relatives have welcomed the charge, but said it should have happened earlier and called on the police chief to step down immediately and face trial.

Mr Kim, head of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency, was off duty and at home on 29 October when the tragedy unfolded.

According to authorities, some 137 officers had been deployed on the ground at Itaewon that night.

The officers were vastly outnumbered by the tens of thousands of, mainly young, people who had gathered in the narrow alleyways of the Itaewon entertainment district.

Ambulances in Itaewon
Image caption,The clogged streets made it difficult for emergency workers and ambulances to reach the area

The first indication something was wrong back in 2022 came just after 18:30 local time, several hours before the deadly crush took place in an alley off the main road.

Most of the people who lost their lives that night were in their 20s.

A report released in January 2023 said local municipal and emergency service officials were responsible for weak planning and a poor emergency response.

It found that no preventive measures were taken in advance, and appropriate measures were not taken after emergency calls for help were received.

Investigators also said incorrect assessments of the situation led to a delay in relaying information and lack of co-operation among organisations.

In a statement, a group representing the families of people killed in the crush said Mr Kim was “fully aware of the danger to the public and for some unexplained reason neglected the scene of the Itaewon tragedy”.

It accused Mr Kim of being “responsible for breaching his specific duty of care by failing to properly exercise his authority to deploy police” and called for him to be “severely punished”.

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