Total subsidiary ex-head jailed over lethal blast

A French appeals court Monday sentenced a former boss of a subsidiary of oil giant Total to a year in prison for a 2001 chemical plant blast that killed 31 people.

The court slapped a three-year jail term – two of them suspended – and a €45,000 ($58,000) fine on former plant chief Serge Biechlin for manslaughter.

Total subsidiary Grande Paroisse, the company he managed, was fined €225,000, the maximum amount, when an appeals court overturned the verdict reached in a 2009 trial in the southwestern city of Toulouse.

The ruling said Biechlin had "contributed to creating a situation that caused damages and did not take steps to avoid them," adding this had also "exposed employees and the surrounding population to a serious risk."

The lawyer for both Grande Paroisse and Biechlin said he would appeal, saying the court's decision was "ruled more by passion than reason."

"We will go to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg if needed," said Daniel Soulez.

The blast which erupted in September 2001 in a storage warehouse packed with 300 tonnes of ammonium nitrate at the AZF chemical fertiliser plant near Toulouse also injured 2,500 people and devastated 30,000 homes.

Prosecutors argued in the first trial that negligence of security measures were to blame but the defence said the explosion had been a simple industrial accident.

The prosecution appealed after the Toulouse court ruled there was not enough evidence to prove manslaughter charges against Grande Paroisse and Biechlin, and a new negligence trial began late last year.

Since the blast, Grande Paroisse has paid out more than two billion euros ($2.7 billion) in compensation to more than 16,000 victims, according to Total's figures.

The blast came just days after the September 11 attacks in New York and initially sparked fears that it was a terrorist attack. That theory was later dismissed by investigators.

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New flights to south of France launched by Jet2

The low-cost British airline Jet2 has announced it will begin operating new services between the UK and southern France, starting in the summer of 2022.

New flights to south of France launched by Jet2
Flights will operate from May 1st 2022. Photo: AFP

When travelling is possible again, getting to Toulouse from the north-west of England is set to become much easier with the launch of new flights from Manchester Airport.

Jet2 already flies to Bergerac, La Rochelle and Nice. The company announced the new destination in response to demand for summer 2022 holidays.

Flights to the “Pink City” in south west France will operate from May 1st until October 16th 2022.

“Since putting our Summer 2022 programme on sale from Manchester Airport, we have added a significant number of flights and destinations in response to the demand from customers who want to get their all-important holidays booked in,” Steve Heapy, CEO of and Jet2holidays, said in a press release.

Since the British government announced a lockdown roadmap on Tuesday, with plans to end England restrictions by June 21st, the company has begun to see a surge in bookings.

READ ALSO: Will summer holidays in France be possible this year?

However the present rules on entry into France from the UK are the strictest they have ever been, with virtually no travel allowed between the two countries and no end-date to the current restrictions.

Jet2 plans to reopen its services in mid-May.

“Following the UK government announcement that international travel will not return until May 17th 2021 at the earliest, we have taken the decision to extend the suspension of flights and holidays up to and including 16th May 2021,” Jet2 said on Twitter.