Seven scientists have been found guilty of the manslaughter of some 308 people following the 6.3-magnitude earthquake that struck the city of L'Aquila in Italy on 6 April 2009. All seven have been sentenced to six years in prison for issuing false reassurances that a major quake would not necessarily follow the weaker tremors that the region had been experiencing.

The verdict comes after a year-long trial in the Italian city – about 100 km north-east of Rome – that ended last month. The scientists are members of a committee that provides a risk assessment of potential natural disasters and include Enzo Boschi, president of Italy's National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology, as well as Claudio Eva, an earth scientist at the University of Genoa.

Stayed indoors

The researchers were accused of incorrectly assessing the likelihood that a major quake could happen in L'Aquila given the large numbers of tremors in the region in the months before the deadly event. As a result of this assessment, argued the prosecutor Fabio Picuti, residents and officials failed to take steps that could have saved lives. In particular, he said that some residents remained indoors on the night of 5 April when the tremors returned – followed by the early-morning earthquake.

The ruling comes in spite of an open letter to the Italian president from 5000 international scientists saying that the charges are unfounded.