From Iceland — Suspect In West Reykjavík Fire Has Been Charged With Murder And Arson

Suspect In West Reykjavík Fire Has Been Charged With Murder And Arson

Published September 18, 2020

Andie Sophia Fontaine
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A man who has been in police custody for about 12 weeks, suspected of having deliberately started a house fire in West Reykjavík last June, has been formally charged with murder and arson, MBL reports.

Assistant district prosecutor Kolbrún Benediktsdóttir confirmed for Vísir that he has been made aware of the charges. He had been in custody for 12 weeks, the maximum amount of time that someone can be in police custody in Iceland without charges filed against them.

As reported, the fire, on Bræðraborgarstígur 1 last June, claimed three lives, injured several others, and caused untold loss of home and property to a dozen people.

Guðbrandur Jóhannesson, a lawyer representing ten people who lived in the house and the families of those killed in the blaze, confirmed for reporters that they intend to file for damages against the suspected arsonist.

However, the tragedy could have also been prevented if the residence itself had better protection against fire and fire escapes. As reported, the house has itself has appeared in the media on a few occasions as housing workers living in unfit conditions. In 2015, for example, Stundin interviewed a former resident of the house, who described the house as dilapidated, infected with mold, and housing mostly foreign rental workers who paid as much as 90,000 ISK per month in rent for a small room, with no fire exit apart from the main entrance.

One former resident of the property told RÚV that the residence was indeed in poor shape, and that the property owner resisted making necessary repairs to the extent that residents were forced to refuse to pay their rent until those repairs were made. According to the former resident, he was paying 80,000 ISK a month for a tiny room. 14 other people reportedly lived in the place, all of them sharing a single kitchen and bathroom.

The property is registered as belonging to a company called HD verk ehf, Vísir reports. They also report that this property is not registered as a residential property nor as a guesthouse, making it illegal to house people there.

A trial date for the suspected arsonist has as yet not been set.

While hundreds of people demonstrated in front of Parliament in the wake of the fire, calling upon the government to enact better protections for foreign workers, the Icelandic government has yet to meaningfully respond to the tragedy.

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