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Axe attack feud 'not as simple as it seems'

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Axe attack feud 'not as simple as it seems'
12:10 CEST+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.

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