07 January 2011

Report from Day 8

Report from Day 8 – 05 January 2011

“None of us who sit here know how old they are – they weren't present at their birth”.
Forensic Expert Witness Dr. Helmke, University Hospital Eppendorf (UKE), Hamburg.

Today, we hear again from the two expert witnesses, Dr. Helmke and Prof Furhmann, who already gave evidence on day 3 and day 5, as well as from Captain Eggers.

It turns out that Dr. Helmke's method of age determination is based on a paper published by a certain Prof. Schmeling in Berlin in 1930. Counsel Jung asks if Helmke has taken into account any material on the subject that has been published since then, i.e. within the last 80 years. To our surprise the answer is no. 

So the method to determine the age of the accused – on which this whole trial hinges – was developed at a time and place where racism was ripe and biological determinism was the order of the day. A few years on from the writing of this paper, 'scientists' would measure the length of people's noses with a calliper in order to determine whether they were Jews.

The standard tool that is used by Helmke and others is a the so-called Greulich-Peil Atlas that contains x-ray pictures of hands of increasing age. The examining doctor compares the x-rays of the person they are examining with the photos in the atlas and finds the nearest match and thereby determines the age of the person. Counsel Jung questions the relevance of the atlas, because it was compiled of what is called a “Standard Population”, i.e. Europeans and North Americans.

Obviously anyone not from those places is non-standard and therefore not relevant.

Helmke admits that the results from the atlas may not be too reliable for non-standard people, but sticks to his estimate of 'definitely over 14 years old' for the youngest defendant. He has examined some 20,000 x-rays of hands in the last 30 years and is confident that his work is accurate, although he can't really quote any scientific evidence of that.

"None of us who sit here know how old they are - they weren't present at their birth." says Dr. Helmke.

Then Prof. Fuhrman talks about examining the teeth to establish the age and insists that he estimates the age, he doesn't determine it. For a proper determination, other criteria would have to be applied. Asked about other methods, he claims that the one he uses is the best one because it provides the best results. How does he know that? Because the results are good.

After this, the captain of the MV Taipan, Dierk Eggers is up again. A couple of video clips are shown which were taken by German Navy planes when the 'activists' - as he calls the Somalis - were approaching the ship. Asked if he knew that the German Navy was in the air at the time, he says he didn't. He was only made aware of it when he was interviewed by German authorities in Dubai later.

Finally, the youngest of the accused makes a statement. He offers an apology to Eggers - who accepts.