The owners and the builder of an Athens factory that collapsed in the 1999 earthquake, killing eight people, were acquitted yesterday of the draconian charge of «murder with possible malice aforethought» by a court that found three of the defendants guilty of manslaughter alone. Meanwhile in the northern town of Larissa, the local Council of Misdemeanors Court Judges indicted six people to stand trial for the «murder with possible malice aforethought» of 21 schoolchildren killed in a road accident almost one year ago. This kind of charge was first leveled against company owners and civil engineers linked with buildings which collapsed in the September 1999 earthquake – which killed 143 people – as well as against officers and ferry company employees involved in the September 2000 Samina sinking that cost 80 lives. But yesterday, an Athens court ruled by a four-to-three majority that the charge could not be proved against any of the five defendants on trial for the Faran pharmaceuticals factory’s collapse. However, the court convicted board members Dimitrios, Marios and Nikos Katsikas – the factory owners – of manslaughter, sentencing them to four years and eight months, three years and eight months and two years and eight months in prison, respectively. The court ordered their release pending retrial at an appeals court. A fourth board member and the civil engineer who built the factory were cleared of all charges. In Larissa, the driver of a truck whose load of plywood came loose in the Vale of Tempe on April 13, 2003, shearing through a bus carrying secondary school pupils, was indicted on 21 murder charges – together with the owners of the timber firm he was working for and three company officials. The truck had been speeding, and its tires were worn.