Historians, police sceptical over ‘StB plot’ explanation for 1984 gas explosion

28-04-2010

The authorities have been examining claims by a former intelligence agent that a fatal explosion in 1984 was the work of the communist secret police, the StB. Twelve people died when a gas mains exploded in the town of Třinec. The agent claims the whole thing was a secret police plot aimed at discrediting dissidents around Václav Havel, but historians and police are sceptical.

June 1984 was a tragic month for the town of Třinec in north-eastern Moravia. Twelve people died and a further nine were injured when a gas mains ruptured and exploded in front of a housing estate as workmen were repairing a broken heating pipe.

Václav HavelVáclav Havel For a quarter of a century the incident has been regarded as an unfortunate accident. On Saturday, however, the daily Právo reported that a former StB agent named Karel Muroň had come forward with a startling claim: the explosion was the work of the secret police.

A month ago Mr Muroň approached the state prosecutor’s office in the city of Olomouc to say that the Třinec explosion was planned and executed by the StB. He said he was part of the team behind it, before he got cold feet and fled to Poland. Mr Muroň was quoted by Právo as saying that two Libyans were also involved in the explosion, which was to be blamed on Václav Havel and fellow members of the Charter 77 human rights group.

The claims are now being examined by the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, to decide whether there is any merit in proceeding with a criminal prosecution. However the organisation’s spokesman Jiří Reichl is highly sceptical:

“After discussing this with my colleagues, we think it was impossible. Because if this was the work of the StB, there would have been a hell of a lot of people involved. They just wouldn’t have been able to keep it secret.”

Also sceptical is detective Jiří Jícha, who was involved in the original 1984 investigation. He told Právo it was a fairly open and shut case of negligence – the gas pipe had been exposed without being supported from below, there had been heavy rain causing the soil to shift, and the pipe had ruptured as a result. A local resident noticed and called the police, but seconds later the gas exploded. All this, he said, would have been extremely difficult – if not impossible – to orchestrate.

Two people – including the supervisor overseeing the work – were found guilty of negligence and sent to prison. The Institute is now poring through the archives to confirm whether it was just an accident or something more sinister.

28-04-2010