Court of appeal acquits Villaggio fire case accused

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A Doha court of appeal acquitted five persons, who were held responsible by a trial court for the deadly Villaggio mall fire. However, the judge ruled the company that owns the shopping centre was guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

The ruling has enabled the families of the victims to seek financial compensation.

Handing out the verdict, it  said the families of all 19 victims were entitled to blood money of QR200,000 each. The court asked the company that owns the mall to arrange with its insurance company and others to pay the blood money.

One of the worst tragedies to hit Qatar

The mall fire which happened in May 2012, left 19 dead, including 13 children. The other victims were four staff of the Gympanzee daycare and two firemen.

Many of the children suffocated after a blaze broke out at a nearby Nike sports store, caused by faulty wiring.

The victims included two-year-old triplets from New Zealand. Children from France, Spain and Japan also perished as did staff from the Philippines and South Africa.

154-page verdict

Villaggio-Fire-Rescue

Rescue team evacuates children through roof (Getty Images)

In a five-hour long ruling, presiding judge Abdalrahman al-Sharafi threw out the convictions against the defendants clearing them of several charges. The judge said he cannot agree with the testimony given by the victims’ family members during the initial trial, arguing that one cannot be a witness and a plaintiff in the same case.

The judge also felt that the Gympanzee staff were not quick enough to act in a situation like a fire.

The appeal court judge said Gympanzee was not a nursery and concluded that it was an entertainment centre. He said the daycare marketed itself as a centre for children aged 12 and under.

The higher court’s verdict running into 154 pages means that no one will go to jail.

However, the company has the right, said the court, to file civil lawsuits against its tenants who it thinks were responsible for technical faults that led to the fire.

Media reports suggest that families of 13 toddlers who died have reacted furiously to the acquittal of the premises’ owners, accusing the judge of blaming the dead.

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