Attorney-general Giorgos Savvides’ decision to take no more action in the case of the 2005 death of national guardsman Thanasis Nicolaou sparked a rather hostile reaction, which was understandable, in the circumstances. The case has moved public opinion, with a sizeable number of people believing that the state had the moral obligation to put right a great injustice for which the state authorities were clearly culpable.

The way the case had been handled in 2005 was so slapdash, it is no wonder many have been claiming there had been a cover-up aimed at protecting the culprits. There may have been, but if there was no cover-up the investigation at the time was staggeringly incompetent and shoddy. The authorities were probably content to close the case, after the state pathologist’s conclusion that there was no foul play, as this spared them the need to carry out an investigation in the National Guard, which nobody wanted to do.

“Instead of the state protecting and supporting the citizen, it covers up crimes and leaves the citizen exposed, leaving them to find justice on their own,” said the mother of Thanasis, in a post after the AG’s made public his decision. This lack of trust in the state is justified, considering that without the mother’s persistence and determination in fighting the system, the case would never have been reopened.

Savvides may have come under criticism for Tuesday’s decision, but it was he who reopened the case and appointed criminal investigators to investigate the circumstances of Thanasis’ death and once their investigation was completed, ordered the police to clear up the grey areas. That the police found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing was not the fault of the AG, who was obliged to close the case.

Perhaps the police did not do a very good job, but the AG had to base his decision on the evidence (or lack of it) at his disposal. Should he have ordered another police drive to find evidence, in order to satisfy the public, and where would this stop? There were objective difficulties for the police, considering the death occurred 18 years ago. Given the lack of evidence of criminal wrongdoing, there was no case to take to court.

All the information gathered, the investigators’ report and witness testimony, Savvides said, had been handed over to Thanasis’ family whose lawyers intend to file a private criminal case. The AG has the constitutional power to stop a private criminal case, but Savvides has indicated he has no intention of doing so for this case. The family’s search for justice will continue in the hope that private action would yield results.