DOHA: A fire expert from the interior ministry yesterday told a criminal court hearing the Villaggio Mall fire case that the devastating blaze had started at a sports shoe outlet on the ground floor after the aluminium holder of a fluorescent lamp melted and came in contact with sports footwear stocked there.
The fire then spread to some 30 nearby shops in the mall, the witness, who was from the interior ministry’s forensic laboratory, claimed in his deposition.
A copper lamp holder should have been used instead, argued the witness, suggesting that both the fluorescent lamp and its holder were of substandard quality.
“Most fires in Qatar take place because of the use of substandard electrical appliances, which, despite their hazardous nature, are available aplenty in the local market,” the witness said.
The insulating material on electrical wires was of low quality and not suitable to Qatar’s weather conditions, the witness told the court.
A defence lawyer disputed his claim and said since he was a chemist by training he didn’t have the expertise to talk about the cause of the fire. “We had a fire expert who investigated the Villaggio blaze,” the witness said.
Six witnesses testified during yesterday’s marathon hearing in the criminal court at Al Sadd that lasted more than five hours with a half-hour lunch break.
The second witness was an official from the Ministry of Social Affairs, which is responsible for licensing nurseries.
She told the court the ill-fated nursery, Gympanzee, where all the 19 deaths were reported from, was not licensed by her ministry.
Gympanzee was located on the first floor of the Mall so it couldn’t have been a licensed nursery because licensing rules require that a nursery must be housed on the ground floor of a building, she said. “Gympanzee had no safety clearance from the Directorate of Civil Defence as well.”
A woman doctor, also from the Interior Ministry, who conducted autopsies on the bodies of four of the 19 fire victims — three Gympanzee teachers and a child — said they died due to suffocation caused by thick and poisonous smoke. The next hearing in the case will be held on Wednesday when the defence is expected to produce their witnesses.
Meanwhile, this newspaper has learnt that it is likely that the mall fire trial will be conducted on a fast-track basis. The parents of some of the deceased children have made a plea to the prosecution to this effect and suggested the trial be conducted on a weekly basis. It is likely the prosecution might convey the parents’ plea to the Supreme Judicial Council. THE PENINSULA