Inga Engh landed the case of a lifetime when she was chosen to prosecute confessed mass murderer Anders Breivik. Cool and collected in the courtroom, this mother of two boys has admitted that there is inevitably a personal relationship to this case.
OSLO –She didn't have to reply. She, after all, is the one asking the questions in the courtroom. It is the defendant who must answer the questions, and otherwise keep quiet. But when Anders Behring Breivik asked her if she was trying to make him look ridiculous, Inga Bejer Engh replied. "I'm not trying to make fun of you, or irritate you," she said. "I simply want things to be clear."
And with that same aim in mind, Engh, 41, asks Breivik questions like: "When you go to your Knights Templar meetings, do you really wear white gloves and a make-believe uniform?" – as Breivik has described doing in his Manifesto 2083. Once again, the monstrous self-appointed "Savior of Norway" was reduced to his obvious core: one of society's losers who spun a crazy, extreme-right web around himself and killed people out of bloodlust to compensate for his pathetic life. Point for Inga Engh.
The local media have zeroed in on the prosecutor as she conducts the trial of a lifetime. While 52-year-old judge Wenche Elizabeth Arntzen maintains the measured, presidential distance expected of her, Inga – as she is known in this country where everyone calls each other by their first name – is the ideal opponent, who has been dubbed "Ice Angel" and other star-making monikers.
It is certainly not wrong to describe Engh as the top of her profession. Her boss, Jørn Maurud, picked her deliberately for the job. "She is an extremely competent prosecutor with a very quick grasp of how to ask questions so she gets the relevant information," the head of Oslo's public prosecution office told the local paper Dagbladet.
But as for Engh, when she is asked about herself or the task at hand, she says as little as possible. At press briefings following court sessions, she routinely declines to answer any personal questions.
Needing extra help with the kids
She was a bit more forthcoming last December, when news broke that it would be she, along with fellow prosecutor Svein Holden, who would be handling the Breivik case. She told the Drammens Tidene that on the day of the Breivik attack – July 22, 2011 – she was home, standing in the kitchen with some wet laundry in her hands, when she heard a muffled explosion. It was the bomb going off in Oslo's government district.
Engh did not, however, think anything much about the sound as she prepared to drive south for a family holiday in Arendal on the "Norwegian Riviera." They were just leaving Oslo when a colleague called her on her mobile: "Have you left town yet?" he asked. Puzzled, Engh asked why he was asking.
"Turn on the radio," he said.
The day's attacks were monopolizing the air waves, and Engh was afraid of the impact on her kids that the chaotic jumble of interviews, live coverage, and commentary would have. She quickly realized that Norway would face tough times as a nation after an attack like this. What she didn't know was that she would be playing a major role in it all.
The Breivik trial hasn't only changed Engh's professional life; a lot has changed in her private life as well. The prosecutor's father, Abel Engh, has stepped in to help take care of her children. He's taking a two-month sabbatical from his own work as an independent consultant. "From now on, I'm a Grandpa and nothing else," Abel Engh told the Drammens Tidene newspaper.
Inga Engh's husband is helping too: "He has to take the kids to kindergarten, and fetch them more often," Engh recently told a TV interviewer.
From the time she was a young child, Engh is said to have been unusually aware of injustice. When teachers treated students unfairly or classmates were mobbed she would get angry. By high school, she'd decided she wanted to be a public prosecutor. Her mother no doubt played a role this decision – she had dreamt of, but never pursued, a career in law.
Engh was ambitious, and after passing her state law exams moved to New York City to work at the United Nations. "That was the steepest learning curve I ever faced," she would say later. "All the others had several years experience in international law, and were a lot more competitive than Norwegians tend to be."
But her own competitive drive was alive and well, and back home it didn't take her long to land a job in the public prosecution office. She was just 32, still childless at that point -- and she worked around the clock. When she became a mother, she realized quickly that motherhood and that kind of dedication to her job weren't going to mesh – but it took another life event to ground her.
Three years ago, her second son was born prematurely. The baby was in the hospital for four months before he could come home – and it wasn't clear for a while that he would make it. He survived, but Engh says the experience taught her what it felt like to be a small piece of a much bigger system, vulnerable and full of unanswered questions. "And it made me face the question: how do I treat the people who contact me about what is happening to them?"
Engh comes across in court as self-possessed, sometimes bordering on cool. She cross-examines Breivik relentlessly, repeats questions, won't let him off the hook when he tries a "no comment."
She read the charges against him as flatly as she might recite names from the phone book – except that the words were about blood and gore, lacerated organs, bullets in brains, livers, hearts and lungs, horrific pain. "I'm not emotional; I do my job," she told a reporter last week when asked about how she felt reading the charges.
Engh may have a professional approach, but she also has strong feelings about it. Before the trial, she stated that it was hard to stand the testimony of people who lived through the horror. "It was particularly bad when I went with the police to Utøya Island," she says. "Now I have a bit more distance. I don't know how it came about, or how to describe it beyond saying it's a kind of professional remove."
For the prosecutor at the center of the Anders Breivik trial, it is a good quality to have.
Read the original article in German
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