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Steel firm boss convicted on deaths

A top executive at a German steelmaker has been convicted of murder for a 2007 plant blaze that killed seven workers in Italy.

The court in Turin sentenced ThyssenKrupp's CEO for Italy, Harald Espenhahn, to 16-and-a-half years in prison, as had been requested by the prosecutors, ANSA and LaPresse news agencies said.

Five other company officials have been convicted on manslaughter charges and sentenced to up to 13-and-a-half years in prison, according to the reports.

The trial has been hailed as historic because it was the first time that workplace deaths in Italy had led to murder charges and, now, a conviction.

Relatives of the victims, some wearing T-shirts featuring photographs of the victims, applauded after the verdict was read in a Turin courtroom. Some cried, others hugged and thanked the leading prosecutor, Raffaele Guariniello. "I believe this conviction can mean a lot for the safety of workplaces," Mr Guariniello said, calling the ruling "epoch-making".

The verdict, reached after several hours of deliberations, can be challenged.

ThyssenKrupp called it "incomprehensible and unexplainable" in a statement carried by ANSA. It expressed its pain for the workers' deaths, and said that "a similar tragedy must never repeat itself".

One worker died immediately in the blaze at the steelmaker's plant in Turin, while the other six died later in hospital. The deaths prompted calls in Italy for improved safety measures in the workplace. ThyssenKrupp said after the blaze that there was no confirmation that any safety violations had played a role in the fire.

Labour minister Maurizio Sacconi said the verdict sets a "relevant precedent".

Giorgio Airaudo, of the metalworkers' union Fiom, welcomed the ruling, saying: "When workers are injured or killed at the workplace it's never by chance, it's always somebody's responsibility."

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