KOBE – Four officials of the central and local governments pleaded not guilty Thursday to failing to take safety measures at a man-made beach in Akashi, Hyogo Prefecture, where a 5-year-old girl died in 2001 from injuries sustained when part of the beach caved in and buried her.
The beach had experienced several other cave-ins before the girl was injured.
“We had no idea part of the beach would collapse and we were not authorized to establish an off-limits area,” said Isao Kajita, 60, one of the defendants. Kajita was also an official at the time of the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry’s Himeji office on rivers and national highways.
The four defendants — two ministry officials and two from the Akashi Municipal Government — pleaded not guilty to professional negligence resulting in death at their first trial session before the Kobe District Court.
It is the first time infrastructure ministry officials have faced criminal charges for alleged negligence over the administration of state-owned man-made beaches.
The two Akashi officials said they could not predict the accident.
“We did not have any right to do fundamental repair work,” defendant Masahiro Aota, 59, said.
Prosecutors believe the officials neglected their duties by failing to designate danger zones even after dozens of other cave-ins were discovered on the beach before the girl’s death.
On Dec. 30, 2001, Miho Kingetsu, was buried when part of the beach collapsed while she was walking with her father. She was rescued immediately but was in critical condition and died in May 2002.
Following the court session, Miho’s father, Kazuhiko, said he was angered by the defendants’ attitude.
“What were their apologies” following the accident? Kingetsu asked. “Frankly speaking, I was flabbergasted” by their innocent pleas.
Kingetsu said he believes both the central and Akashi governments are responsible for his daughter’s death.