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Tuesday, 2 April, 2002, 14:31 GMT 15:31 UK
Dutch fireworks blast bosses sentenced
Enschede explosion
The explosion could be heard in nearby towns
A Dutch court has sentenced the two owners of a fireworks factory to six months for illegally storing fireworks that exploded and killed 20 people in the town of Enschede on 12 May 2000.

Rudi Bakker and Wilhelm Pater were freed after the decision was announced since they had already spent three months in remand and each had three months of their sentences suspended.

Enschede debris
The explosion wrecked cars and houses
The presiding judge, Hans Breitbarth, harshly condemned Enschede authorities for failing to prevent the country's worst fireworks disaster, saying they shared the blame.

An entire city block was destroyed and hundreds of locals injured in the blast, which happened when several storage containers at the depot caught fire, triggering a series of powerful explosions.

Long sentence avoided

Bakker and Pater were each fined 2,250 euros ($2,540) for violating safety regulations.

The men were found guilty of importing and selling illegal fireworks, breaking safety codes and violating storage licenses.

Prosecutors had demanded sentences of between 15 and 30 months, but the pair were both acquitted of the more serious charges of negligence for the fire.

fire fighters
Four fire fighters lost their lives

After the decision Bakker and Pater both walked away from the court, in the town of Almelo, just a few kilometres from Enschede.

Enschede was built around the SE Fireworks factory, the only one in the Netherlands to be located in a residential area.

Unknown danger

The force of the explosion, in which four fire fighters were killed, was heard in nearby towns.

It left a swathe of damage in Enschede, blowing out windows, setting on fire nearby buildings and enveloping the city in clouds of smoke.

Most people - including the mayor Jan Mans - were unaware that the SE Fireworks warehouse was even there.

Fire fighters at first believed they were attending a routine fire, then 100 tons of explosives ignited, sending fireballs into the air.

When it was built in 1977, the warehouse was outside the town, but as new residential areas were built it became surrounded by low-income housing.

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The BBC's Monica Coughlan
"An entire neighbourhood was destroyed"
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