Housemate delays calling ambulance: one year in prison

Housemate delays calling ambulance: one year in prison
© Camilo Jimenez for Unsplash

A man who waited 24 hours before calling emergency services for his seriously injured housemate has been sentenced to one year in prison by a court in Antwerp.

In September 2019, Sven D.B. found his housemate apparently dead in the house they shared. The man had clearly been severely assaulted, and an autopsy showed fractures to the nose, eye socket and ribs, as well as a stab wound to the neck and signs of strangulation.

But despite that, D.B. held off from calling emergency services for 24 hours, as evidenced by CCTV camera images showing the housemate returning home for the last time, and D.B. coming and going between that time and the time of his call to emergency services.

He was originally suspected of murder, and spent 15 months on remand in prison while the case was investigated. He maintained his innocence throughout, and since the case against him could not be proven, he was finally charged with the lesser count of criminal negligence.

The charge is based on the principle in Belgian law that failing to come to the aid of a person in need is an offence. Such aid does not have to be extraordinary – no need to jump into a canal to help someone who is drowning, for example – but every reasonable effort must be made.

D.B. claims he was so far under the influence of drink and drugs that he cannot recall the hours or days before he did call emergency services. It was only after two acquaintances passed by the house and warned he might be suspected of the killing that he finally picked up the phone.

In its judgement, the court found the charge proven, and sentenced D.B. to one year in prison. The two acquaintances, who were also in the presence of the murdered man and did nothing, were acquitted in their absence. The court found that at the time they were in the house, no effort could have saved the victim.

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