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Swedish police backtrack on refugee groping claim

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Swedish police backtrack on refugee groping claim
A press picture of the Karlstad festival. Photo: Putte i Parken
14:06 CEST+02:00
Swedish police in the Värmland region have retracted a claim that a group of suspects identified after a spate of alleged sexual offences and groping at a summer festival were young refugees.

Five rapes and a number of sexual assaults were reported at the popular Bråvalla festival in Norrköping over the weekend. Meanwhile, at the Putte i Parken festival in Karlstad, dozens of groping incidents were registered by police, including teenage boys grabbing the breasts of young female audience members.

An official statement on the Värmland regional police's website about the Karlstad incidents stated that the suspects identified by officers were asylum seekers aged under 18. It read: "There is no doubt about who's taking these liberties. A gang of seven to eight boys belonging to the group of unaccompanied children."

But on Tuesday police were forced to backtrack after being questioned by several media, admitting that only two had been confirmed as young migrants. Karlstad police inspector Urban Bengtsson told the Göteborgs-posten newspaper late on Monday that the suspected perpetrator was "a young boy or man".

"We have arrested seven suspects so far. Six are younger men in their 15-20s and one is a 35-year-old man." Asked whether they were unaccompanied minors, he said: "I can neither confirm or deny that that is the case. The investigations will have to show that. The 35-year-old is definitely not. But I know that two of the suspects live in a HVB-home [a home for troubled youths, often used to house young refugees without parents]."

The original statement published on the police website was later removed, but a screenshot can be viewed here. Both Bengtsson and the head of Värmland police, Lars Wirén, described the wording as "unfortunate".

"The wording was unfortunate and we will take that to heart. We have changed it now. It's important that the information we hand out is factual. We should not generalize and point at a group like this. We should handle it on a case-to-case basis," Wirén told Göteborgs-posten.

"I and the police take responsibility for what we have written and we think that the wording was unfortunate. As a government agency we have to be clear and correct so that we are not misunderstood. Otherwise we risk our information being taken as a given and can be used in other contexts," he added.

The Local has been unable to reach the police for a comment.

The debate about sexual molestation flared in Sweden earlier this year after it emerged that groups of boys had groped girls at the We Are Sthlm youth festival for at least two years running.

Swedish police were heavily criticized at the time for not releasing details on the 36 reports of sexual assault and two rape allegations filed after the festivals in 2014 and 2015.

Many of the alleged perpetrators were young Afghan refugees, newspaper Dagens Nyheter reported when it broke the story in January, as police fielded accusations of burying the reports to avoid stoking anti-immigrant sentiment. 

It is usually rare for information about alleged criminals' identities or ethnic backgrounds to be revealed during police investigations in Sweden or reported by the Swedish media. Criticizing Värmland police, criminology professor Jerzy Sarnecki said it was important to make sure information is accurate.

"They published it because they thought it was correct, but they changed it because it proved not to be true," he told The Local.

"This is about thinking fast and slow. (...) If you expect something to be the outcome it is very easy to see this kind of outcome. Then if you look at it slowly, more carefully, you see the outcome is not of that kind. In police work in particular, with these kinds of politically touchy questions, you should be careful about what you're saying. Look at things more than one time, and slowly," he said.

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