A New Zealander spent more than decade trying to clear his name only to see the courts of a European country flip its decision and convict him over the deaths of dozens of people.

A Kiwi businessman has been found guilty and jailed over the deaths of 65 people who were crushed in a Polish building disaster.

The verdicts are a U-turn by the Polish courts after Bruce Robinson was acquitted of the charges in late 2017.

He had also been repeatedly denied bail and crammed into a tiny cell during his case.

Polish media reported today that Robinson was sentenced to a year-and-a-half imprisonment by the European country's Court of Appeal after he was found guilty of involuntary causing the deaths of 65 people in Poland's worst construction disaster.

Advertisement

The prosecution against him came after the roof of a Katowice International Fair building in the city of Katowice collapsed in 2006 under the weight of snow - crushing those inside.

Up to 170 people were also injured as rescuers searched for survivors in sub-zero temperatures.

At the time Robinson, a dual New Zealand and British national, was the CEO of Polish operations for the UK company Expomedia Group - a business which manages trade shows and exhibitions.

One of Expomedia's subsidiary companies, MTK, owned the trade hall which collapsed while it was being leased for the national carrier pigeon exhibition.

Robinson's guilty verdicts could still be appealed to Poland's Supreme Court, Poland's TVN24 reported.

New Zealand authorities are aware of the Polish court's decision, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade told the Herald.

"The New Zealand Embassy in Warsaw is aware of the appeal outcome for Mr Robinson. For privacy reasons no further information will be provided."

Last year, the Herald revealed details of the case against Robinson, where the British House of Commons Home Affairs Committee published a report specifically mentioning the Kiwi's lack of fair trial rights.

Advertisement

Robinson, an accountant, was in Spain at the time of the disaster and returned to Poland on his New Zealand passport after learning of the tragedy on January 28, 2006.

Neither Expomedia nor its management had any involvement in the design or construction of the building, which was poorly designed, cheaply built, and collapsed due to the weight of snow and ice on its roof, investigators' reports showed.

While Robinson had received an email before the disaster regarding concerns over heavy snowfall he later received another message that the roof was stable.

Upon his return to Poland, police arrested him along with three architects, another MTK board member and one of the company's employees.

The Kiwi was held under Poland's temporary arrest laws in Katowice and denied bail without reason several times while he was investigated.

He spent more than a year crammed into a 15sq m cell with seven other prisoners, was only allowed out for an hour a day, and according to his family had just one shower a week and limited food.

A general view of the wreckage of the International Fair building on January 29, 2006. Photo / AP
A general view of the wreckage of the International Fair building on January 29, 2006. Photo / AP

The British government couldn't help Robinson because he had entered Poland on his New Zealand passport, so his lawyer, Grzegorz Slyszyk, turned to then Prime Minister Helen Clark to assist his client.

But Winston Peters, who was then the Foreign Affairs Minister, declared that New Zealand would not interfere.

The New Zealand Embassy first secretary consul in Poland, Mike Grace, did, however, attend several of Robinson's hearings and visited him in jail.

Legal documents Robinson was privy to also took months to be translated into English.

On one occasion he signed an application for preliminary detention but added, "I'm signing that I have received this paper but I am not able to understand what it says".

Slyszyk was eventually successful with an appeal against his client's temporary arrest and the New Zealander was released on bail for $145,000 on March 5, 2007.

Robinson finally went to trial in mid-2009 along with 10 others and faced the prospect of up to eight years in prison.

But the case stagnated and years of legal debate ensued before the District Court in Katowice eventually convicted Robinson in June 2016 and sentenced him to three years' imprisonment.

Robinson and Slyszyk took their case to the Polish Court of Appeal and in September 2017 the Kiwi was acquitted.

It was thought to have been a final and non-appealable judgment, but Slyszyk earlier explained to the Herald that prosecutors could file a cassation appeal to the Polish Supreme Court.

Such an appeal would examine the relevant law but not the facts of the case.

Political pressure and a law change also saw the ability for parties to file complaints against any final judgment from a Polish court.

Robinson has declined to be interviewed by the Herald about his case, but in a statement to the Polish Court of Appeal in 2017 he said: "When the MTK catastrophe happened many people tried to hide from the reality and their responsibilities, trying to distance themselves from anything to do with MTK; well I didn't.

"Despite all that has happened to me, I still fought for the victims of this catastrophe."

A reparation payment of nearly $1.2 million had been made to the victims' families of the disaster by the company, Robinson said.

The architect of the building was jailed for nine years and lost his appeal, while a former MTK board member had his sentence halved to two years.

The company's technical director was sentenced to 18 months' prison and two construction experts were each sentenced to two years.

Three builders were also acquitted.