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Axe attack feud 'not as simple as it seems'

Axe attack feud 'not as simple as it seems'

Published: 18 May 2009 12:10 GMT+02:00
Updated: 18 May 2009 12:10 GMT+02:00

A neighbourhood feud near Haparanda in northern Sweden has held the media focus for several years - the accepted story being that a Roma family terrorized the whole village. But when the acclaimed Swedish investigative journalist Maciej Zaremba visited the village of Vojakkala for Dagens Nyheter he found the truth to be quite different.

The Swedish Supreme Court (Högsta domstolen) will soon rule on whether to grant leave for the five members of the Grönfors family to appeal their convictions for a vicious axe attack against a neighbour in May 2008. The attack was the culmination of more than two decades of conflict in the small community.

The attack left a 47-year-old former neighbour with life-threatening injuries and Allan Grönfors facing eight years in prison for attempted murder. His sisters, brother and father all received sentences in connection with the attack.

It was the unprecedented broad application of the definition of complicity in the crime that led to Maciej Zaremba's deeper interest in the case.

Zaremba found on reading the court documents surrounding the trial that the family members had been convicted as a group and that the evidence presented for the convictions appeared incomplete.

When he then decided to visit the village he found that the motives for the attack were significantly more complicated that the picture presented in the trial and the Swedish media.

The family has repeatedly been described in major Swedish media sources as the "terror family" and the accepted truth is that the family had terrorized their neighbours who had lived in fear for their safety.

Zaremba questions whether these prejudices held against the members of the Grönfors family have affected the judgment of the court.

"One gets a feeling that there is something between the lines in this judgement, which we are expected to have knowledge about and which renders it unnecessary to investigate further," Zaremba writes in Dagens Nyheter.

After three months in the village Zaremba found a contrasting picture to the accepted media interpretation of the conflict. Since the Grönfors' move to Vojakkala in 1986 it is they that have been frozen out, bullied and harassed, Zaremba writes.

The explanation as to why, Zaremba claims, was near at hand.

"'The family', wrote the prosecutor, and meant just that. But in Tornedalen you read: 'The gypsies'."

When the family moved in they tried to employ help to clear the snow on their drive, but were turned down. When they tried to buy hay for their horses: the same response. So it continued for 23 years, according to Hilkka Grönfors.

Zaremba interviewed inhabitants of the village who told of a concerted attempt to freeze out the Grönfors family under the threat of violence for anyone found breaking the boycott.

Allan Grönfors told the court that he attacked the 47-year-old because he wanted him to leave his family in peace. He also wanted him to stop desecrating his mother's memory.

The court did not ask, and was not told, what Allan Grönfors meant but Zaremba has discovered that he was referring to an incident in November 2006 when the 47-year-old threw a paper flower on the Grönfors' front lawn.

The paper flower had been stolen from Allan Grönfors' mother's grave - 350 kilometres away, across the border in Finland. The 47-year-old also claimed to have desecrated the grave and tampered with her body - a claim confirmed by church reports from the time, Zaremba writes.

At the time of the attack, the 47-year-old had moved from Vojakkala and was subject to a restraining order that prevented him from approaching the Grönfors family.

Despite the restraining order his car was parked on the neighbouring property and he was found to have a pistol and 36 rounds of ammunition under his jacket.

Zaremba writes that the media campaign to discredit the Grönfors' was part of a deliberate approach by the same people who were behind the harassment. He also found that the reason why the Grönfors' side of the story has never emerged is that no journalist had taken the time to visit, and ask.

Zaremba argues that the case raises issues of media ethics but expressed understanding that the story had not been that attractive to investigate.

"When a media picture becomes so massive it can be difficult to understand that the truth can be another," Zaremba said in an interview with Svenska Dagbladet.

Allan Grönfors was convicted in December 2008 for attempted murder and had his sentence raised to eight years by the the Court of Appeal (Hovrätten) for Upper Norrland in April. His sisters Hilkka and Anneli were given eight months for harbouring a known criminal. Brother Demetri and father Yrjö were given six years for planning the attack.

The Supreme Court will soon rule on whether the family members will be given leave to appeal their convictions and the sentences imposed by the appeals court.

Peter Vinthagen Simpson (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

15:07 May 18, 2009 by moh
just wondering if some other foreigners are going through thesame problem.........hate as a result of racism is the most painfull thing to happen to a foreigner....i think
16:02 May 18, 2009 by RocknRoll
this smells of mob justice ... how is Sweden any better than Hungary in this case .. where the gypsies are murdered & discriminated against.

This is a sort of lynching ... should not happen in a country that prides itself in its quest for social eqality, justice & human rights.

So very shameful.
16:14 May 18, 2009 by Keith #5083
restraining order?neighboring property.Pistol + 36 rounds.What is he doing there under these circumstances? Bird watching??? This looks more like 'self defence' than anything else.Axe versus gun? Something strange here.
17:16 May 18, 2009 by DeepFriedTwinky
Great reporting and discovering the truth. After reading this, my view had changed for the family. I hope more comes to light.
21:33 May 18, 2009 by randomboy
Just like Dogville!
23:32 May 18, 2009 by mikelasel
Well RocknRoll its always easy to construct wonderful frames about oneself, Social equality-Justice-Human rights, but its only in real life that the true nature of these notion becomes manifest. The 'great nation of Sweden' will be great only for the Swedes.

So let Social Justice and Human Rights rejoice, I'm being sarcastic of course.
21:55 May 22, 2009 by Spud Lite
The Roma have been in a state of siege globally for hundreds of years. I'm surprised that we are still around.

Some of us are accepted, because we have assimilated, bought houses, gotten normal jobs (other than seasonal fruit-picking and the like), and not identified ourselves as Roma.

Those who maintain the traditional lifestyle are generally reviled throughout the world, with the exception of France where we can congregate annually in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer for weddings and other festivities. Roma-bashing will never end.
01:46 May 23, 2009 by Coalbanks
I'm not sure that 'Roma-bashing" is the whole of this story: desecration of a grave? restraining order & a loaded firearm? The possibility of justifiable homicide is a distinct possibility, given the lack of information provided it's difficult to say for sure, as is the case for self-defense against "Roma-bashing", given the long-standing animosity between the Roma & other residents in the area.
12:15 August 2, 2009 by romani1
Its suprice me as a human right fighter, a formernational advisor for the word. Ewrybody took it for grant, that the romafamily, was the problem. Then one day Anneli Grönfors, caled me and askin for help. When I heard the right side of the story and red the good atricle, abouoth the journalis, wha has spen a night there. She told ewerything, like Anneli was. So once again , Sweden and Finland shows the right side of the human right, in theese countryes, i was compleatly chocked. I, who has been in Kosovo, and with my expirence, was totaly out. Thats life for the romagroup in our countries. So what is the differen betwen Hungary who is killing and doing much bad and we try to help the people in this coutnries, meet the doverments, the NGO groups e.t.c.. We have to stan up for the familys, liked the Grönfors in Sweden. Im going to do ewerything to help the family and would be glad if some media wont to talk to me or whatewer. Im ready. Here is my address valamahelge@hotmail.com
11:43 August 10, 2009 by Amies2277
http://www.katsomo.fi/?treeId=329&progId=18399

And this is the Finnish media side of the story.
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