L'AQUILA, Italy (Reuters) - An Italian court convicted six scientists and a government official of manslaughter on Monday and sentenced them to six years in prison for failing to give adequate warning of a deadly earthquake which destroyed the central city of L'Aquila and killed more than 300 people in 2009.
The seven, all members of an official body called the National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks, were accused of negligence and malpractice in their evaluation of the danger of an earthquake and their duty to keep the city informed of the risks.
The case has drawn wide condemnation from international bodies including the American Geophysical Union, which said the risk of litigation may deter scientists from advising governments or even working to assess seismic risk.
A 6.3 strength earthquake struck L'Aquila, in Italy's Abruzzo region at 3.32 a.m. on April 6, 2009, wrecking tens of thousands of buildings, injuring more than 1,000 people and killing hundreds of others in their sleep.
At the heart of the case was whether the government-appointed experts gave an overly reassuring picture of the risks facing the town, which contained many ancient and fragile buildings and which had been partially destroyed three times by earthquakes over the centuries.
The case focused in particular on a series of low-level tremors which hit the region in the months preceding the earthquake and which prosecutors said should have warned experts not to underestimate the risk of a major shock.
The scientists are unlikely to be sent to jail pending a probable appeal trial.
(Reporting by Alberto Sisto, writing by James Mackenzie; editing by Barry Moody)