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Five officers claim they are victims of "lynching" by the media through "sensationalist" reporting of murder hypothesis...

Five police officers who investigated Marco Pantani’s death in 2004 have commenced legal proceedings for defamation, with their lawyers claiming that they have suffered a “lynching” at the hands of the media.

The news coincides with an expert witness at the recently reopened investigation into the cyclist’s death at the age of 34 concluding that injuries sustained by Pantani shortly beforehand were consistent with a fall – effectively ruling out the hypothesis that he was murdered, as his family claims.

Bologna-based newspaper Il Resto del Carlino reports that the officers were all serving with the Squadra Mobile (Flying Squad) in Rimini at the time of Pantani’s death on Valentine’s Day 2004, with the cause of death officially given as cardiac arrest due to a cocaine overdose.

In August a lawyer acting for Pantani’s family provided what he claimed was fresh evidence that showed that Pantani had been assaulted prior to his death by persons unknown, who then forced him to drink a lethal quantity of cocaine diluted in water.

That led to the investigation into his death being reopened, and it has been followed avidly by the Italian media, with many outlets calling into question the police handling of the case, including allegations that officers failed to wear gloves at the scene and thereby contaminated evidence.

Five officers involved in the original investigation, some now retired, have instructed lawyers Moreno Maresi and Mattia Lanciani to start legal proceedings against parties they claim have disseminated news that is “seriously detrimental” to their reputations.

The lawyers insist that reporting of the case on TV and radio and in the printed and online press had been characterised by a “sensationalist tone.”

They said: “It no longer seems possible to stay silent and above all to continue to tolerate a lynching by the media that has assumed unacceptable proportions and which appears to be driven by specious and reconstructions of the facts dressed up as truth, often accompanied by the reporting of wildly misrepresented facts.”

Maresi and Lanciani added that the new inquest into Pantani’s death had been reported as though it were a story in episodes,” with key issues described to back up the presumption that Pantani had been murdered, and that they had “rained down accusations” on the police officers regarding their alleged mishandling of the investigation.

Their clients had “unjustly” experienced bitterness as a result of the media’s coverage of the case, said the lawyers, who pointed out that the officers had carried out “the delicate police investigation into the death of Marco Pantani with a sense of duty, commitment and readiness.”

Meanwhile, expert witness Professor Franco Tagliaro has delivered a report to the chief public prosecutor confirming, as did a post mortem carried out on Pantani in 2004, that his injuries were consistent with a fall rather than being sustained in a struggle.

The report’s conclusion is a serious blow to the Pantani family’s murder hypothesis, and prosecutors will now decide whether to order Professor Tagliaro to repeat toxicological tests.

By coincidence, this evening sees the launch at a theatre in Rimini of a book about Pantani’s death by writer and journalist Andrea Rossini, in which he roundly rejects the idea he was murdered. Pantani’s mother and her lawyer are both due to attend the event.

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.