Grapperhaus: lessons to be learned from evaluation of Utrecht tram attack

On 18 March 2019, the Netherlands was rocked by an attack in a tram in Utrecht. Four people were killed, while multiple individuals suffered injuries (some severe) or witnessed this extremely traumatic event. The perpetrator, Gökmen T., was arrested the same day and is now serving a life sentence. Given the seriousness and social impact of this attack and the importance of learning lessons to inform future action, all organisations involved have conducted learning evaluations and the Inspectorate of Justice and Security has prepared an overall analysis. After informing the next of kin and victims today, Minister of Justice and Security Grapperhaus and Minister for Legal Protection Sander Dekker submitted these evaluations and analysis to the House of Representatives.

The Inspectorate’s central conclusion is that the organisations involved, the police, the Public Prosecution Service (OM) and the Judicial Institutions Department (DJI) could have had a better and more complete picture of the perpetrator. This might have led to more appropriate measures being taken. However, the Inspectorate also states that this does not mean that the attack on 18 March 2019 could have been prevented. The Inspectorate emphasises that, while risks can never be eliminated entirely, it is important to minimise them whenever possible. With regard to the functioning of the crisis organisations, the Inspectorate states in its report that thanks to the actions and perseverance of the police, the Mayor of Utrecht and the Public Prosecution Service, the perpetrator was arrested on the same day. Yet there are also lessons to be learned, according to the Inspectorate. On the day of the attack itself, the crisis organisations did not operate as one organisation and, in the course of day, essential information about the investigation was not available to the representatives of the three parties in time. The parties also failed to cooperate according to the agreed and rehearsed scaling structure, and for a long time, no uniform investigation procedure was followed.

 “The suffering incurred by relatives and victims cannot be undone. They will have to live with this terrible event and its consequences forever. On several occasions, together with the Mayor of Utrecht, I have spoken to various surviving relatives and victims of the attack. Those conversations have made an indelible impression on me. They have also strengthened my conviction that we, in our constitutional state, must do everything in our power to prevent similar events in the future.” 

said Grapperhaus.

In their response to the House, Grapperhaus and Dekker state that they largely endorse the conclusions from the evaluations and the Inspectorate’s analysis. Since the tram attack, concrete steps have been taken that should significantly contribute to the ability of various parties in the response chain to form a more complete picture regarding persons like T.

Agreements have been made to improve follow-up and forwarding with regard to signs of radicalisation, both within detention and between correctional facilities and chain partners such as municipalities. In order to better recognise possible signs of radicalisation during detention and to be able to follow up on them (including after detention), efforts to establish the Radicalisation Hotline and the Multidisciplinary Reconciliation Consultation (MAR) were initiated in April 2019. The municipality concerned – where the detainee comes from or will return to after detention – is involved as well. This connection ensures that an effective and integral picture is available inside and outside detention, on the basis of which an appropriate follow-up approach can be developed, regardless of where a person is.

In addition, the communication between DJI and the Public Prosecution Service regarding criminal offences that take place in detention will be more structured. OM and DJI have taken temporary measures to ensure this information is shared more quickly and directly. A structural solution is in the works.

The approach to people like T. is being improved so that there is a better view of multiple offenders and individuals with multiple problems. The various local and national organisations in the criminal, care and social domains must be more effectively connected. The ability to share crucial information with each other is vital here. The bill on data sharing by partnerships, which is now before the Senate for debate, is intended to expand the possibilities for information sharing.

Preventing an attack by a lone offender or a potentially dangerous loner is and remains a huge challenge. All parties recognise the need to further strengthen the approach to this target group. For example, those taking a person-centred approach can already avail themselves of the expertise of the National Police Threat Management Team, in which police and care professionals work together to properly assess the risk of violence from potentially violent individuals, including those motivated by extremism.

The crisis structure, too, has drawn lessons from the events of 18 March 2019. Existing operational procedures of the crisis organisations have been tightened and the agreements on management in a crisis situation have been revised, all with the aim of safeguarding the respective functions while also optimising mutual cooperation.

The optimisation of information sharing and cooperation is a key priority within all areas for improvement. To that end, the basic assumption is that the organisations involved are vigilant and will respond adequately in cases where signs of radicalisation are present.