Villaggio mall emergency exit locked - dad

Last updated 13:17 24/12/2012

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A locked emergency exit prevented the escape of children killed in the Doha mall fire, the father of the New Zealand triplets who died in the tragedy believes.

After being postponed four times because some defendants did not show up in court, a trial has finally started to determine criminal responsibility for the Villaggio Mall fire that killed 19 people in May.

An official report found the fire started in faulty wiring within a fluorescent light in a Nike store, from which smoke spread rapidly to the neighbouring Gympanzee nursery.

Two-year-old triplets Lillie, Jackson and Willsher Weekes, who were at Gympanzee, were among 13 children who died.

Their father, Martin Weekes, said it had been devastating to learn from a witness at the trial that one of two emergency exits at the daycare centre had been locked from the outside by mall management.

"If that one hadn't been (locked) the kids would have been able to escape", he said.

The triplets' mother, Jane Weekes, had checked that the daycare had two emergency exits before enrolling their children.

Civil Defence officers told the hearing Villaggio had been repeatedly fined for using a highly flammable paint in its mall decorations, which, when ignited, caused fire to spread quickly and was difficult to contain, Doha News reported.

Chemicals in the paint, coupled with smouldering clothes from the Nike store, caused the heavy smoke that spread to the nearby play area, asphyxiating 13 children, four teachers, and two firefighters trying to save them, the officers said.

Sprinklers would have stopped the smoke, but did not appear to be working.

Villaggio officials had not responded to requests from the fire alarm and sprinkler system companies to perform much-needed maintenance on the mall equipment, the officers said.

Civil Defence admitted firefighters at the scene were not necessarily properly trained to handle the fire.

Witness testimony is expected to resume late next week.

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