Triplets' dad criticises Doha fire probe
By 3 News online staff with NZN
The father of Kiwi triplets killed in a Doha mall fire has criticised investigators, saying proper post-mortems weren't carried out on his children.
Two-year-old New Zealand triplets Lillie, Jackson and Willsher Weekes were among 19 people who died when a fire broke out in the Villaggio mall on May 28 last year.
The trial to determine criminal responsibility for the fire resumed in a Doha court on Wednesday (local time) and a forensic doctor from the Ministry of Interior (MOI) was among those to give evidence.
The doctor told the court that autopsies were carried out on the 19 victims on the evening of the fire, Doha News reports.
The doctor said all the victims had ash on their clothes and in their noses and mouths, indicating they died of suffocation from smoke.
However, in a comment on the Doha News website, the triplets' father Martin Weekes said autopsies weren't carried out on his children.
"An autopsy is a thorough scientific analysis of the cause of death - in this case they simply looked at their clothes and mouths," he wrote.
"No blood analysis was done and no tissue analysis despite MOI being fully aware since 2007 that illegal toxic materials are throughout Villaggio – illegal highly flammable paint and illegal flammable mouldings still there today."
‘No autopsy as you and I would understand it’ - father
Mr Weekes told 3 News he’s deeply concerned by the lack of autopsy, as it may have revealed more information about the smoke that killed the victims of the fire.
“There was no autopsy as you or I would be aware of what an autopsy is. An autopsy requires you to open up the individual,” he says. “We have reports that with our children nothing of that nature was ever done.”
“If it was smoke that killed the children, is it the toxic materials that are in that mall that actually were the thing that killed the children? And only an autopsy would [show] that.”
He also says that he has been denied access to his children’s personal items that were exposed to the fire.
“We’ve tried to get access to the children’s personal effects – none of those things have been returned, so we couldn’t even get those to test them either.”
New details emerge
The Qatar fire chief has told the court the fire started after a fluorescent light bulb burst and fell onto boxes of shoes and sporting equipment in a Nike store in the shopping complex.
The fire chief, who fielded questions for over two hours during the hearing, said the type of light bulb is common in Qatar, even though its components are flammable and have caused other fires, Doha News reports.
Also speaking in the court was 32-year-old widower Louie Aban, whose 29-year-old wife Maribel Orosco was an accountant at the Gympanzee childcare centre and died in the fire.
Ms Orosco called her husband three times during the fire. At first she told him to come to the Villagio mall to help, but she made her last call to say goodbye.
The court heard that when Mr Aban arrived, police stopped him going inside.
Mr Aban said he told officers that his wife and several children were trapped, but they repeatedly replied “no problem”.
No sign of fire investigation report
Mr Weekes says the government's independent report into the fire is being withheld from families, despite promises they would receive it, and it isn't being used as evidence in the trial.
He posted on the Doha News site: "Does the report contain so much damning information about safety in public facilities and the monitoring and construction over the last eight years that the authorities don't want the public to panic, are they concerned […] it will not stand international scrutiny or does the report actually not exist?"
Speaking to 3 News, Mr Weekes says it is his understanding that only the Cabinet of the Qatar government currently has access to the report.
“Allegedly, it’s only gone to the Cabinet. And we followed this up with our lawyer this morning and he said that it may never get presented to the court,” he says.
Victims’ families have presented a joint request to the Qatar authorities, but to no avail.
“There was a meeting on the ninth of January with the families and our various embassies,” says Mr Weekes. “So that’s New Zealand, America, Spain, France, China, Canada – and we met with the Attorney-General in Qatar and we raised this issue of the report, because it’s been raised now with several different authorities and we’ve been assured that we will receive it, but we still have not.”
More witnesses are expected to give evidence when the trial resumes on January 30.