- Special Pages
BY MOBIN PANDIT & MOHAMED OSMAN
DOHA: A woman who lost her child in the fire that gutted an illegal nursery in Villaggio Mall last year has been divorced by her husband, who accused her of being careless and leaving their toddler in the care of a “negligent” baby care facility.
The woman, a French national of Egyptian origin, was married to an Egyptian. The now-divorced couple had a small son, Yusuf, who died in the tragic inferno.
Testifying as a witness in a criminal court, which is hearing the Villaggio fire case, the woman said yesterday that she was on a visit to Qatar and had signed a four-month contract with the ill-fated nursery, Gympanzee, for the day care of her son.
She told the court she found Gympanzee listed as a nursery in a local tourism magazine, ‘Marhaba’. “That’s how I decided to leave my son in the care of that nursery.”
Sources, meanwhile, told this newspaper that the woman worked with a prestigious French bank outside Qatar, and while her husband stayed back in Egypt, she had come to Doha pregnant with a second child, wanting to deliver here because of the advanced medical facilities in this country.
She gave birth to a girl, and her first child was left in the day care of Gympanzee, where he perished in a fire that broke out 20 days after she began leaving him there.
She was one of the several aggrieved parents who testified before the judges yesterday, producing vouchers to show that they had paid Gympanzee for taking care of their children, and that it was a nursery and not a “play and entertainment area”, as claimed by the defence.
Another parent cited an interview one of the co-owners of Gympanzee had given to a local Arabic daily, which was published on September 3, 2009, saying that it was a nursery.
The nursery charged a one-off registration fee of QR500 and, depending on the number of hours a child was left in its care daily, its monthly fees ranged from QR2,000 to QR2,900, the parent said.
“I paid QR2,900 because my child stayed there for longer hours and I used to pick him up at 6pm each day,” he told the court, producing vouchers as proof.
A witness from the General Directorate of Civil Defence, whose firefighting teams battled the Villaggio blaze, said he arrived on the scene as part of the second batch of firefighters, and they couldn’t enter the nursery through the main entrance due to the fire and smoke.
“We made our way to the nursery using our emergency stairs at the rear of the building. We reached the rooftop and saw a big hole, drilled by our own people, which led right into the nursery.”
“When I went down, I saw one of my colleagues lying dead on the floor, and his uniform was burnt,” said the firefighter.
Cross-examining him, a defence lawyer asked why the Civil Defence personnel had not used exhausts to suck out the thick smoke. The witness said exhausts were used but they were small.
A senior official from the Ministry of Business and Trade also deposed as a witness and said that Gympanzee was licensed by his ministry as a “play and entertainment area.”
To operate as a nursery, a facility must be licensed by the Ministry of Social Affairs, he said, adding that Gympanzee wasn’t licensed by this ministry.
The official faulted his ministry, saying that it had 36 inspectors and none of them ever reported that Gympanzee was operating as a nursery. Licensing rules for play and entertainment areas in malls or major shopping centres require that they are monitored regularly to make sure that they are operating for the purpose for which they were licensed.
The next hearing in the case has been fixed for January 23.