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 Thursday, 16 January, 2003, 17:22 GMT
Chaos in court for Moscow claim
Lawyer Igor Trunov, left, speaks to press outside Moscow's Tverskoi district court
The court was crammed with press and plaintiffs

It was a challenge to find the courthouse, tucked away in back alleys behind what used to be Moscow's answer to the old Covent Garden fruit and vegetable market.

But as I approached the shabby red brick building I saw dozens of TV cameras trained on its entrance.

Inside, on a dimly lit staircase two policemen were manning an airport style metal detector, which did not work.

The narrow corridor was packed with reporters, who outnumbered the plaintiffs two to one.

I was pressed against the wall, and the lighting switch under my shoulder kept flicking the lights on and off.

Unconscious person carried from Moscow theatre siege
More than 100 people died in the siege

We waited for an hour or so for the defendants to arrive. They were running late, and the plaintiffs were getting angry.

The hearing was already behind schedule, because of the long Christmas break taken by the representative of the Moscow city government assigned to the case.

"This is adding insult to injury," said a middle aged man, whose son died during the rescue operation.

Turbulent scenes

Finally, the defendants arrived, but it turned out there were not enough seats in the court room to accommodate everybody.

The press was swiftly squeezed out of the room.

There was a scuffle between bailiffs and a newspaper photographer who insisted on his right to attend the process which was formally open to the public.

He was led away.

Luckily, I managed to stay in the room, waving my official accreditation at the bailiffs. But apparently, all this was for nothing.

The hearing did not go beyond procedural matters.

Frustration continues

The victims' lawyers tried to have the case transferred to another court.

They claimed since the defendant in the case, the Moscow city government, partly finances local courts and pays the judges' housing, commuting and telephone bills, these courts may not be deemed entirely independent and impartial.

The plea was rejected by the judge on grounds of insufficient evidence.

However, in a brief interview with the BBC the plaintiffs' lawyer said he was determined to have the case transferred.

His clients described the atmosphere at the court as something reminiscent of the siege itself - cramped stuffy place, where they had to sit for hours getting bored to death by the slow grinding law machine.

They accuse the authorities of incompetence, negligence and mishandling of the hostage crisis.

They say they have been frustrated by the inadequate official response to their plight.

But it looks like they will have to endure more frustration than they bargained for when they filed their suits.


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16 Jan 03 | Europe
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