French prosecutors have opened a negligence investigation into the devastating fire that destroyed the Notre Dame Cathedral roof.
Authorities have no grounds to believe the fire which wrecked the 13th century cathedral in April was the result of criminal action, although they were probing the possibility of negligence, the Paris prosecutor’s office said today.
A badly stubbed-out cigarette or an electrical fault are likely to have started the devastating blaze that ripped through the ancient wooden spire, Paris prosecutors added, ruling out any criminal intent.
French investigators were examining many hypotheses ‘including a malfunctioning of the electrical system or a fire which started with a badly stubbed-out cigarette’, said a statement, indicating there was no evidence to back up any theory of ‘a criminal origin’ to the fire.
Smoke billowing as flames burn through the roof of Notre Dame Cathedral in the French capital on April 15
Firefighters dousing flames rising from the medieval roof at Notre Dame as the emergency services battled to control the blaze
Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said in a statement: ‘If certain failings, which may explain the scale of the fire, have been brought to light, the investigations carried out to this date have not yet been able to determine the causes of the fire.’
Heitz added that an investigation had been opened into the possibility of negligence having caused the blaze.
But the statement emphasised that the investigation had still not clarified the actual cause of the fire. Preliminary conclusions had been based on interviews with some 100 witnesses.
It was not yet possible to conclude if either an electrical fault or stubbed-out cigarette was the most likely theory, it added.
‘Deeper investigations, using significant expertise, will now be undertaken,’ the statement said.
The statement said a preliminary investigation had now been opened, without targeting any single individual, over involuntary damage caused by negligence.
Prosecutors announced the opening of a new investigation for ‘involuntary degradation by fire through manifestly deliberate violation’ of security rules. Three judges will head the probe.
Notre Dame Cathedral engulfed in flames that ripped through the ancient wooden roof
Rubble and the cross at the altar inside the the Notre Dame Cathedral after it sustained major fire damage in April
In April, a spokesman for scaffolding company Le Bras Freres which had been involved in restoration work admitted that workers had smoked on the site from time to time.
‘We regret it,’ the spokesman said at the time, adding: ‘In no way could a cigarette butt be the cause of the fire at Notre Dame.’
Notre Dame was gutted by a fire on April 15 that felled its steeple and consumed the lattice of beams supporting the roof.
Firefighters saved the main bell towers and outer walls from collapse before bringing the blaze under control.
It erupted in the UNESCO world heritage landmark in the French capital, sending its 300ft spire and roof crashing to the ground as flames and clouds of smoke billowed into the sky.
At one point the inferno threatened the entire edifice, was brought under control about nine hours after it broke out.
In the aftermath numerous conspiracy theories emerged, including unfounded claims that terrorists were responsible.
French prosecutors say there were no ground to suspect the fire was caused by a criminal act, but a negligence probe has been opened
The inside of the cathedral was damaged by falling debris and rubble when the roof and spire collapsed
The damage to the world heritage landmark shocked the world, with President Emmanuel Macron setting an ambitious target of five years to restore the edifice.
Within days, detectives began interviewing specialist restorers who were working on the roof of the medieval Catholic place of worship designed by the architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc and erected in 1859.
These led to a number of confessions about smoking on the job, despite a strict ban. Police also found seven discarded cigarette butts on the scene.
Investigators have made it clear that the fire could have started at least a full day before emergency services knew about it.
Forensics experts also told those leading the criminal enquiry that a discarded cigarette could have started carbonising tinder-dry wood without anyone noticing.
Notre Dame has been closed for the foreseeable future, but a trust fund has already raised millions for its restoration.