Matthew Backhouse

Matthew Backhouse is an APNZ news reporter based in Wellington.

Not guilty plea over Doha fire

The last picture of the Weekes triplets shows Winkie (left), Jackson and Lillie at the daycare in the Doha mall hours before the deadly inferno. Photo / Supplied
The last picture of the Weekes triplets shows Winkie (left), Jackson and Lillie at the daycare in the Doha mall hours before the deadly inferno. Photo / Supplied

The owner of the Doha childcare centre where Kiwi triplets died in a blaze has pleaded not guilty to criminal charges after finally appearing in court following four no-shows.

But the trial will not go ahead until December 19 after defence lawyers asked for charges to be brought against Nike, whose shop was where the fire in the Villaggio mall started almost six months ago, Doha News reported.

Nineteen people were killed in the fire including two-year-old triplets Lillie, Jackson and Willsher Weekes. They were among 13 children and four teachers who died in the mall's Gympanzee childcare centre.

All the defendants charged over the deaths pleaded not guilty when they appeared in a Qatari court, Doha News reported.

Prosecutors opposed the move to bring charges against Nike, but judges said they would consider it.

The criminal hearing to determine responsibility for the deaths had been postponed four times after the owner of the Gympanzee daycare centre, Iman Al Kuwari, failed to show up.

Her appearance in court means she is able to mount a defence against the charges - something which hung in the balance after her last no-show earlier this month.

A court official earlier told Doha News that today's hearing would be the last time Al Kuwari could be tried "amicably", after which she would lose the chance to mount a defence.

The others charged over the mall fire include Al Kuwari's husband, mall management, Civil Defence officials and insurance company representatives.

The relatives of victims were reportedly teary-eyed as the defendants appeared in court for the more than half-hour hearing.

They told Doha News their expectations had been low after the postponements, but progress had been made.

The triplets' father, Martin Weekes, earlier this month expressed his frustration with the delays to the hearing.

"The delay in the legal system is beginning to shed an unfavourable light on the country and the courts."

Three weeks after the fire, Nike released a statement saying it was deeply saddened by the deaths.

An investigation report found the fire was sparked by faulty electrical wiring in a fluorescent light in its store.

- APNZ

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