The Weekes triplets (L-R) Lillie, Jackson and Willsher.
Parents of children killed in the Doha Mall fire last
year say they have been attacked by defence lawyers in a
hearing to determine responsibility for the 19 deaths.
A trial in a Qatari court heard arguments overnight (NZT)
that Gympanzee, the facility in the Villaggio mall where 13
children were being looked after, was a nursery and could
have violated its commercial licence.
All defendants attended the hearing, including Gympanzee
co-owners, four Villaggio mall officials and an employee of
the Ministry of Business and Trade, the Doha News reported.
New Zealand triplets Lillie, Jackson and Willsher Weekes,
aged 2, were among the 13 children killed. Four teachers and
two firefighters also died of smoke inhalation after being
trapped in the blaze in May last year.
Documentation showed that Gympanzee was licensed by the
Ministry of Business and Trade for six business activities,
including as a play room for children.
But all four parents of children killed in the fire who
testified overnight said the business operated as a daycare
centre. They presented receipts, monthly contracts and photos
of signage and literature of Gympanzee referring to itself as
The distinction was important, parents told Doha News,
because if it was a properly licensed nursery, Civil Defence
officials would have been aware that there were children
inside and worked to get them out quickly.
Firefighters have previously said they did not initially know
that the mall had a nursery or that children were trapped
Parents said they felt insulted and attacked by the questions
posed to them during the hearing, which included inquiries
about their whereabouts during the fire, how they found out
about their children's deaths and why they chose to enrol
their children at Gympanzee.
"They asked me horrible questions," one mother told Doha
News. "Like, 'did you know if your daughter was dead at 12
Another mother said they felt like we were the accused and it
was their mistake.
"They're telling us, 'you're responsible for their deaths'.
Unbelievable," she said.
Defence lawyers for the Gympanzee owners pointed out the
business also charged hourly babysitting rates and rented its
space for birthday parties on the weekends - activities not
usually conducted by a daycare.
They suggested the fault lay with Civil Defence and its
failed rescue attempts, as well as Villaggio mall officials
for not shoring up safety standards.
After last month's hearing, Martin Weekes, father of the New
Zealand triplets, said: "What is now happening in the courts
is the defendants are all blaming each other and blaming the
Government (Civil Defence & Ministry of Business &
Trade) - none of this helps the families have closure."
Remaining witnesses, which include a firefighter, a Gympanzee
teacher and the husband of a teacher who was killed, will
testify later this month.