Justice in the Netherlands: Guilty until proven Innocent

Kevin Sweeney is serving a life sentence for murder of his wife by arson.

Here is a link to his own site http://www.justiceforkevinsweeney.com. You can read the conclusion of the court under LJN number AB0493 at www.rechtspraak.nl. Investigative reporter Peter R. de Vries reports on the case in his dossier Suzanne Davis. Curiously, Peter de Vries admits that there is absolutely no proof of arson and murder yet he appears to have a lot of sympathy for the victim of the fire, and none for the person who is accused of starting it. He has no interest now in supporting Sweeney’s claim that he is innocent and the fire was an accident (probably started by smoking in bed).

Negative publicity about Sweeney, demonstrably untrue and much of it spread by certain of the close relatives of the victim, has poisoned a lot of the news items on his case, see for instance the story on Sweeney at www.expatica.com, a web-site for Brits in the Netherlands. However independent lawyers and scientists who have become involved in his case are convinced that the fire was an accident, see for instance Fair Trial International’s dossier on the case http://www.fairtrials.net/index.php/cases/spotlight/kevin_sweeney.

On studying the scientific evidence which secured the conviction (results of experiments by TNO on reproducing the fire damage, and the pathology evidence concerning the cause and time of death), I can only agree that the prosecution’s story is totally in contradiction with all known facts, while that of the defense is totally in agreement with them.

It seems that Sweeney’s charming personality, high intelligence (his IQ of 144 is one of the legally established facts supporting his conviction) and spirited and elaborate defense of himself convinced Dutch judges that he was evil and manipulative. The fact that the fire started about the same time Sweeney arrived in Brussels one hundred kilometers away only confirms these judgements. The TNO experiments showed that the fire could NOT have been caused by a naked flame applied to 8 litres of fuel, and did nothing to disprove that it was caused by a burning cigarette fallen on bed-linen or whatever. Police investigators stated that the idea a fire could be caused by smoking in bed “belongs in the realm of fables” (a turn of phrase much admired by the judge, who quotes it in the summing up) whereas this is one of the most common types of fires, and the most common cause of fire deaths, the world over. Statistical evidence that such fires also occur in the Netherlands was not admitted by the judge who preferred to believe in the word of a policeman, out to secure a conviction. The TNO experiments were so complex and expensive that they had to incriminate the suspect, whatever the outcome, despite the fact that they were spectacularly ill-designed and inconclusive.

I notice the following similarities with the case of Lucia de Berk: the suspect is intelligent, a strong personality, a sympathetic but not run-of-the-mill person, with an unusual (complex) background and personal history involving much time spent abroad; the suspect never stops asserting their innocence; the crimes are so perfect that they are actually impossible; the case involves a huge amount of complex multidisciplinary scientific evidence. Scientists from any particular field know that the evidence of their colleagues in their own field was worthless but don’t find it necessary to protest, since everyone knows that the suspect was a bad person who probably did kill his wife. The police suppressed evidence supporting the defence case, manipulated forensic evidence, got witnesses to change their statements and to lie. The prosecution spread slander and gossip about the suspect and paints a beautiful picture of the victim which was greedily repeated by the media, known by scientific experts giving witness in the case, and embellished by the judges in their conclusions.

At the first hearing, the case collapsed; the prosecution appealed and spent three years on the TNO fire experiments. Fully documented support of all the statements I have just made were available to the Appeal Court (which found Sweeney guilty), to the Supreme Court, and to the European Court of Human Rights. All these courts have ignored them totally. Justice by gossip, with science as a willing accessory

Here is a report I’m writing for Sweeney’s lawyers.


  logo University Leiden

Scientific Conclusions Following from Study of TNO Experiments and other Scientific Evidence in the Sweeney Case

Richard Gill
Faculty of Natural Sciences
Leiden University

2nd version: 30 June, 2007

Summary: the scientific evidence proves that the fire was an accident. The case must be reopened.


1. Scientific judgements on key scientific evidence in the Sweeney case
2. Proviso
3. My credentials
4. Conclusion

1. Scientific judgements on key scientific evidence in the Sweeney case (especially concerning experimental design and interpretation of statistical evidence and probabilities)

* By the nature of their design, the TNO experiments bear no relevance whatsoever to the question whether or not the fire could have been caused accidentally since no experiments were done simulating the situation in which a fire was accidentally started by a smouldering cigarette fallen on bed-linen, newspapers or tissues, and unaided by deliberate application of large quantities of liquid fuel and a naked flame.

* The experiments show that it is impossible that the fire was caused by arson, specifically by a significant quantity of accelerant and a naked flame, since in order to reproduce the observed fire damage, it was necessary to depart from the actual situation concerning all main determining factors (ambient temperature, humidity, and especially ventilation) for the course of a house fire.

* The cause of death (CO poisoning and asphyxiation by other fumes) and the position and stance of the body, and the fact that the victim was just alive when the fire-brigade arrived, show that the fire had started only a short time previously, say, later than 3.30 a.m. The fact that no trace of petrol, turpentine, or any other accelerant could be found in the victim’s body proves that none was used to start the fire. None was found anywhere else, except suspiciously and allegedly in patches of carpet removed by the police days after the accident.

* The fact that witnesses did not notice a raging fire around 2.50 a.m., following the burglar alarm (false alarm?) at 2.37 a.m.,  is completely consistent with the scenario of the defence, and totally contradicts the scenario of a fire caused by deliberate ignition and rapid combustion of 8 l. of fuel started well before 2.30 a.m.

* The fact that a witness reports having smelt a fire when questioned again, half a year after the accident, but did not report this when questioned immediately after the fire,  raises severe doubts into this witness’s reliability and the reliability of the police investigators.

* The reports of the state of the “jerry-can” and other “fuel containers” strongly support the hypothesis that these containers, and especially the jerry-can, were open and empty when the fire started. The jerry-can appears not to have been a large (8 litre) container, but a smaller (1 litre), originally containing some cleaning fluid. Other containers were full and still sealed. No traces of the contents of these containers were found except allegedly in the carpet. The traces of fuel allegedly found in the carpet are highly plausibly caused by later contamination, or by spilled cigarette lighter fuel or other small quantities of solvents (e.g. nail varnish…), if not by deliberate falsification. All the evidence matches exactly the scenario in which a fire starts accidentally in a place where people had been recently been decorating.

* The fact that a smell of turpentine was reported by some of those first on the scene of the fire proves nothing since a house fire involving fabrics, bedding, and so on, produces a lot of smells of this kind.

The defendant’s story concerning the likely course of events is completely consistent with all scientific evidence presented to the court with which I am so far familiar.  I include here also the results of the TNO experiments.

The scientific evidence contradicts at vital points the scenario put forward by the prosecution. The TNO experiments do not discredit the scenario of the defence, and they strongly discredit the scenario of the prosecution.

Since not many people murder their wives, while accidental fires (causing deaths) caused by smoking in bed, in particular in combination with drinking or emotional stress, are extremely common, and since Dutch police and public prosecutors have a well established track record of manipulating scientific evidence in order to secure a conviction once they are a little bit convinced that a conviction is possible, the balance of the probabilities points to Sweeney being completely innocent.  Moreover, complex scientific evidence is habitually misinterpreted by scientific laymen and in particular by many lawyers and judges.

Since the defence has had three chances (though whether they were fair chances or not, is another issue) the burden of proof now lies, legally speaking, on the defendant.  That is why I must emphasize that all the scientific evidence not only supports the case of the defendant, but also discredits the case of the prosecution. (The prosecution is now the “defendant”; Sweeney now has to show beyond reasonable doubt that the prosecution is guilty).

I hereby state that it is scientifically established, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the prosecution in this case is guilty, aided by the police investigation, and in collusion with incompetent and prejudiced “scientists” (employees of state supported “scientific research organisations”) of having misinterpreted and manipulated scientific evidence in order to mislead judges and force an unsafe conviction. To support my case I will mention that it is beyond reasonable scientific doubt that no one was murdered by anyone, let alone by Sweeney. This conclusion was long ago inescapable to any scientist prepared to look beyond the borders of his own narrow discipline and apply his or her scientific outlook and training also to the so-called scientific evidence presented by other witnesses, and in particular, to consider the mismatch between how that evidence has been put into the public domain by police investigators and other agents of the prosecution, and its actual content.

It is also evident to me that a British subject would have been bewildered by the conduct of the trial, which was against all reasonable Anglo-Saxon expectations. The defence were not given a fair opportunity to find decent contra-expertise while the prosecution has all the scientific institutions of the state at their disposal. It is well documented that scientists in Dutch national “scientific” institutions are extraordinarily (from an Anglo-Saxon point of view) wary to criticise work by colleagues, and that they have a child-like faith in the integrity of the judicial procedures in this country. Experts I have spoken to knew very well that the evidence “from their field” which was presented at the trial was deeply flawed, but they had heard the “propaganda” from the prosecution concerning the strength of evidence of other kinds, as well as gossip and rumours spread by the prosecution concerning his character, which made them believe that Sweeney was guilty anyway, so no need to get into trouble. “Divide and conquer”. The arrogance, self-righteousness, appalling ignorance, and paternalistic attitude of a board of Dutch judges has become legendary in recent years.

2. Proviso

At this point I have not studied all the scientific material presented at the trial. I have studied the key items (the key items according to the judge’s own summing up). In that summing up I discern major errors of logical reasoning including the infamous “prosecutor’s fallacy”. From a decent, unprejudiced and intelligent person’s point of view, the conviction is evidently “unsafe”. In the Anglo-Saxon world (and I would like to say, the civilized world) this should be sufficient grounds for a re-trial, at the least.

3. My credentials

Excerpts from my CV…

4. Conclusion

The case must be reopened.

Richard D. Gill
Faculty of Natural Sciences
Leiden University

30 June, 2007

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