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Investigation reveals safety shortfalls as Malaga and Totalán mourn the loss of little Julen

Julen was finally reached last Saturday morning
Julen was finally reached last Saturday morning / SUR
  • After the body of the two-year-old was found early last Saturday, a judge is now investigating a possible charge of negligent manslaughter

When the body of two-year-old Julen was reached last Saturday morning by mine-rescue workers, any last hope that the toddler had survived the 71-metre fall into a narrow borehole almost two weeks earlier evaporated.

The praise for the dedication of the emergency services in retrieving the boy and the support of the people of Totalán was mixed with the grief of the family, residents in the Malaga suburb of El Palo and the millions around the world who had followed the rescue since 13 January.

The last few metres towards where the boy was

The last few metres towards where the boy was / SUR

Julen's body was found as mining and geolocation specialists had predicted, wedged between the floor of the part-filled borehole and a layer of earth above him, which had prevented him being plucked from the borehole by rescuers' equipment.

The reason why the plug of earth was there on top of him was a key part of the initial investigation into whether the illegal hole had been properly covered and how the boy came to fall down.

Rescuers, after initially rejecting a horizontal tunnel to reach the boy's position, had completed a parallel vertical shaft to the borehole in record time, removing a large amount of earth from the hillside, in the process, the equivalent of 33 Olympic-sized pools. Once complete, the miners were lowered down to begin a four-metre horizontal link to Julen's supposed location on Thursday 17 January.

After delays with dense rock, and extra explosives helicoptered in by the Guardia Civil, they broke through at 1.25am last Saturday and confirmed everyone's worst fears.

The family of Julen mourn their loss

The family of Julen mourn their loss / Salvador Salas

An initial autopsy provided some comfort for the boy's family by stating that Julen died on the same day he fell, showing signs of head and body injuries consistent with a long drop.

Investigation

A Malaga judge has opened an investigation into how Julen got into the borehole and if any party is liable to a charge of manslaughter due to negligence. The earth on top of him is now thought to have come from damp soil falling from the borehole lining.

Authorities have said the borehole, drilled by a contractor searching for water, didn't have a licence. The company owner has said he left the hole covered with a 15-kilo stone, and police are comparing his explanation with the version of the land's owner, who is the partner of Julen's father's cousin. According to sources, the owner of the land has told police that the borehole was left unsealed and he covered it with two breezeblocks.

The family went to the land on 13 January to prepare a weekend paella when Julen suddenly disappeared from view down the hole, according to witness statements.