The forensic investigation into items taken out of Ukraine by Dutch journalist Michel Spekkers which were possibly related to the MH17 crash has shown that one of the items is a fragment of human bone. The other items were also investigated and found not to be relevant to the criminal investigation.
DNA testing carried out by the Netherlands Forensic Institute established that the bone fragment is from a passenger whose identity was established in 2014. The victim’s next-of-kin have been informed.
The police seized a number of items when the journalist arrived at Schiphol Airport on Saturday evening. The journalist had announced earlier that he would voluntarily hand over the items from the crash site to the police, but in the event he did not. A fellow passenger had checked in a rucksack belonging to Mr Spekkers, containing the items from Ukraine, in his own name and proceeded to the exit with it. This person was accosted by the police officers present.
The journalist refused to cooperate at all in making photo and video material of the crash site available. That material is important with a view to finding the precise location where the items were taken from. In view of the journalist’s uncooperative attitude the police had no other option than to seize all the data carriers, with permission from the Public Prosecution Service. Contrary to earlier reports in the Russian media, the journalist and his fellow passenger were not arrested.
The case was brought before the examining magistrate for a decision on the admissibility of the seizure. This was done because it constituted a coercive measure against journalists, and at the same time the freedom of the press must be observed and the protection of their sources maintained. The data carriers were not examined, but sealed, pending the magistrate’s decision.
The examining magistrate decided that – in view of the circumstances, in which the journalist did not adhere to what had been agreed – the police had been right to seize the items that had been brought from Ukraine and the data carriers containing, among other things, photo and video material. As regards further investigation of the seized data carriers, the journalist and his fellow passenger have been invited to indicate voluntarily to the police which relevant material can be copied and which cannot in view of protecting sources.
In the past few days there has been much discussion on social media on the journalist’s actions and those of the police. The impression has sometimes been given that the area in eastern Ukraine where MH17 was downed is freely accessible to the Joint Investigation Team (JIT). This is not the case, due to national and international legislation on legal assistance in criminal cases. After all, the self-proclaimed republics DPR and LPR are not recognised as autonomous states.
The MH17 repatriation mission was concluded in April 2015, with a final visit to the crash site to collect personal belongings and wreckage from local people (https://www.government.nl/ministries/ministry-of-security-and-justice/news/2015/04/30/mh17-repatriation-mission-ended). It is still possible that items relating to the disaster could be found at the crash site. Now that the cause of the crash has been established beyond any doubt, actively searching for wreckage no longer serves any purpose within the criminal investigation. However, it has been agreed with contacts in the area that any material found there (including victims’ remains) can be handed in. There is regular contact with them to check the state of affairs in that respect, and additional contact was made following Mr Spekkers’ finds.