Qatari ambassador acquitted over fatal Doha fire

  • 27/10/2015
A fire at the Villagio Mall in Doha killed 19, including three New Zealand children (Reuters)
A fire at the Villagio Mall in Doha killed 19, including three New Zealand children (Reuters)

The parents of triplets who died in a 2012 fire at a shopping mall in Doha say they are shocked that no one has been prosecuted for the tragedy.

On Monday (local time), Qatari ambassador Sheikh Ali Bin Jassim al-Than was acquitted of involuntary manslaughter for the fire that left 19 dead, including the three New Zealand children.

As well as the charges against Qatar's ambassador to Belgium, three others also had charges relating to the fire at Gympanzee nursery dismissed.

New Zealand-born two-year-old triplets Lillie, Jackson and Willsher Weekes were among the victims.

Their parents Martin and Jane have been highly critical of delays in the case and the efforts to bring people to justice.

"It's been devastating. It actually feels like the death of our children has been completely trivialised," Ms Weekes says.

Mr Weekes says despite their disappointment, the court's decision wasn't a surprise to the family.

"It's been an outcome that I've sadly dreaded and anticipated, however after we met with our Prime Minister, John Key, in April of this year and he guaranteed that he was looking for justice I had hoped that this wouldn't be the outcome and that justice would prevail.

"It seems unbelievable that these people can actually be let off for something that their mayor himself announced after the fire people were guilty and negligent over."

The couple say they are now weighing up their options.

"We're waiting on advice on lawyers and to talk to the other families in Qatar [to see] what the next steps are," says Ms Weekes.

Children from France, Spain and Japan also died in the fire, as did teachers from the Philippines and South Africa.

Al-Thani was a co-owner of the store at the time of the fire.

Many of the children suffocated after a blaze broke out at a nearby Nike sports store in the well-known shopping centre, the Villagio, caused by faulty wiring.

Al-Thani was among four people appealing a 2013 involuntary manslaughter conviction imposed by a criminal court in Qatar.

That conviction left the four facing a maximum of six years in prison, reported Doha News, an English-language news website.

But in a five-hour long ruling on Monday the convictions against the four were thrown out.

The judge did find the mall's owners guilty of involuntary manslaughter, which means family victims of the tragedy could receive "blood money" as compensation.

Doha News reported that relatives of the victims stormed out of the court after hearing the verdict.

None of the accused were in court.

Ms Weekes says the court's decision makes it even harder to move on after the tragedy.

"You never get over something like this, you never get over losing anybody that you love. You just build a life around it and learn to live with it but it does, you know, kick you in the guts at the moment when you least expect it and today has been very much one of those days," she says.

"There isn't a day that goes by that we don't think of them and miss them and we'd walk through fire to get them back."

RadioLIVE / NZN