Ex-chief jailed for fatal error

A former chief of police who personally headed a botched bid to rescue an Athens family held hostage by a fugitive criminal was convicted yesterday of manslaughter over the death of one of the hostages. An Athens appeals court gave Athanassios Vassilopoulos a 12-month suspended sentence for carelessness and insufficient foresight in his handling of the September 1998 operation, in which Amalia Ginaki, 25, was fatally injured. Ginaki had been taken hostage with her mother and brother in their Kypseli flat by Sorin Matei, a Greek-Romanian robber who had embarrassed police a few weeks earlier by escaping from another hostage-taking venture, as officers closed in on him. Judging that a hand grenade Matei, 26, was brandishing was a fake, Vassilopoulos ordered his men to storm the flat. In the ensuing fracas, the weapon exploded, fatally injuring the young woman. Matei was arrested with light wounds, only to choke to death three days later in a hospital bed where he had been left bound hand and foot and heavily sedated.