'More prosecutions needed' over Doha fire

Last updated 11:51 21/06/2013
Weekes triplets
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QUESTIONS REMAIN: The Weekes triplets, Jackson, Willsher and Lillie, who died in a fire at a mall in Doha, Qatar.

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The father of triplets killed in a Qatar mall fire is welcoming the sentence of five people to prison over the disaster, but says more need to be held to account.

Nineteen people died in the fire in Qatar's capital, Doha, on May 28 last year.

Kiwi toddlers Lillie, Jackson and Willsher Weekes were among them.

While relieved at the sentences, the triplets' father Martin will continue pressing the Qatari government to release an independent report into the fire's cause.

"The emir, the ruler, said there was a systemic failure from the design, construction and enforcement so it goes beyond the four walls," Weekes said.

"Maybe it touches too many people and too many departments to make it comfortable."

Qatar's ambassador to Belgium, Sheikh Ali Bin Jassim Al-Thani, and his wife Iman Al-Kuwari were sentenced to six years in prison and were ordered to pay the victims' families blood money. The couple owned the daycare centre where 13 toddlers died and Al-Kuwari was the manager.

The ambassador is a member of Qatari royal family.

Two other defendants - the chairman of the Villaggio mall, Abdul Aziz Mohammed Al-Rabban, and the mall manager, Tzoulios Tzouliou, were also sentenced to six years in prison on the same charge and ordered to pay blood money, a court spokesman said.

Another accused, Mansour Nasir Fazzaa al-Shahwani, of the Ministry of Business and Trade, was sentenced to five years. He was responsible for giving Gympanzee its permit. Two other mall employees were cleared of charges against them.

The Doha News said a judge has also deemed that the standard "blood-money" of 200,000 Qatari riyals (NZ$71,000) per victim be applied as part of the verdict. This will be paid by Villaggio's insurance companies to the families of the victims.

During the trial, witnesses testified that the government had been fining Villaggio repeatedly since 2008 for using a highly toxic, flammable paint in its mall decorations.

The court also heard that sprinklers, which would have stopped the smoke, didn't appear to be functioning.

It heard that Villaggio officials did not respond to requests from the fire alarm and sprinkler system companies to perform much-needed maintenance on the mall equipment, as recently as the week of the fire.

Weekes said he would continue asking for the sake of his friends still in Qatar.

"This is the mall of Doha.

"If that building has safety issues, what about all the other buildings?

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"If you have an important problem you need to share it so more people can address it, this is a hard lesson for a young country like Qatar. But it's part of growing up."

He and his wife, Jane, are now settled in Auckland and expecting twins in seven weeks, if not sooner.

While the triplets were born early as Jane suffered pre-eclampsia, a potentially dangerous condition in pregnant women, things are looking good for the twins.

They have already been nicknamed "The Giants" after the baseball team for San Francisco, where the babies were conceived through IVF.

"The whole place was covered with signs saying 'Go The Giants', so we changed that slogan to 'Grow The Giants'," Weekes said.

"Our house is filled with Giant memorabilia, I even bought an orange and black car when we got home."

- Stuff

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