Exclusive: Father of triplets killed in Qatar mall fire speaks to Arabian Business
The father of the triplets killed in the Qatar mall fire last year has pleaded for an independent and transparent enquiry into the deadly blaze.
Two-year old triplets Lillie, Jackson and Willsher Weekes were among 13 children who died in the Gympanzee daycare centre when a fire broke out in the Villaggio mall in May, killing 19 people.
Speaking from his home in New Zealand, Martin Weekes said he hoped authorities in the Gulf state would learn from the string of errors, including broken sprinklers, faulty building materials, the lack of hospital resources and an unlicensed nursery, which led to the death of his children.
“First and foremost I want to know that my children weren’t killed for no reason. What I mean by this is I want to know that this is never going to happen again. I want to know that the lessons that were learned on that day – and we know that they were significant by the general statements [the Qatari authorities] have made – are not repeated,” he said.
“I would rather there had been an independent public inquiry because I am not so much focused on punishing people, I just want to make sure that this never happens again,” he added.
Witnesses last week finished giving evidence at a hearing into the incident and a verdict is expected to be reached in the next six to eight weeks. No defendants – including two of the nursery’s owners, four Villaggio mall officials and an employee of the Ministry of Business and Trade – gave evidence.
Weekes said a government report into the incident was not submitted to the court for evidence. “In the last hearing somebody presented a report into the fire, which was paid for by the defendants,” he said.
“To this date we have requested from the Qatar government and the court that we have access to the independent fire investigation into Villaggio – which they have lauded so much that they say that it is the basis for safety reforms in the country – but it has been withheld from us and has not been submitted to the court for evidence.”
Investigators in June said faulty electrical wiring in a fluorescent light caused the fire and children trapped in the unlicensed nursery were not discovered until half an hour after firefighters arrived at the scene.
A report said investigators found a “lack of adherence to laws, systems, and measures by all concerned parties to different degrees. This includes adherence to design, license and safety conditions, which contributed to the Villaggio catastrophe”.
Evidence heard during the trial has revealed that the Villaggio mall was built using illegal flammable materials, had faulty sprinklers and was not licensed to house a children’s nursery, said Weekes.
“All we know is what has been put forward by various government departments; they knew the mall was built with illegal flammable materials and they had been fining the mall since 2007 [and] they knew that the mall’s sprinklers systems didn’t work,” he said.
Weekes said a catalogue of errors helped contribute to the death of the triplets. “We know that it wasn’t just the daycare [centre] and it wasn’t just the mall – everything failed that day.
“The emergency services didn’t have the appropriate equipment – our daughter was taken into an ambulance that didn’t have an infant’s oxygen mask for her – and the hospital literally couldn’t manage with the scale of that fire and we are talking about 19 people in the middle of the week,” he added.
Weekes said he hopes authorities learn from the mistakes that took place prior to and during the incident. “Despite the fact that Villaggio was shut for three months afterwards, we don’t know what changes were made,” he said.
“We do know from the evidence that Civil Defence put to the court that the mall was full of highly flammable paint and decorative mouldings, which you are never going to remove in three months. What has been done to mitigate that so it doesn’t happen again?
“My chief concern is about transparency. This is a disaster, not just for our family, but also the country. Let’s try and learn from that to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Burying your head in the sand and pretending it’s gone away isn’t going to do that,” he added.