BANGKOK: Santika club owner jailed over deadly fire

The owner of a Bangkok nightclub was sentenced to three years in jail yesterday over a deadly New Year’s nightclub blaze nearly seven years ago that killed more than 60 people.

Visuk Setsawat was found guilty of negligence over an inferno at the upscale Santika club, Bangkok’s Supreme Court said.

The blaze, which killed 67 people, began shortly after the crowd had counted in 2009, when fireworks were let off as a rock band called Burn played on stage.

“The defendant was careless — which caused death and injuries from the blaze,” the court said, adding that more than 1,000 people were crammed into a venue that should have held half that.

Visuk was promptly taken to Klong Prem Central Prison after the trial

The club, located in a swanky neighbourhood in the Thai capital, was popular with Bangkok’s moneyed set as well as expatriates and tourists.

Most victims were Thai. Three Singaporeans, one Japanese and a Myanmar national were among the dead, while more than 200 were injured including some from Australia, France and Britain.

Some of the dead were crushed to death in the stampede to get out, and witnesses at the time described scenes of chaos as flames rained down from the ceiling and revellers shoved and trampled on screaming victims to flee. The fire caused anger over Thailand’s often lapse approach to health and safety.

Santika had been refused an operating licence since 2004 because of safety concerns, but it remained open while appealing that decision, raising worries about standards at Thailand’s many bars and nightclubs. The court also found that there was only one exit, the 2.30-meter wide main door.

A total of seven people were prosecuted over the fire in cases that have slowly wound their way through Thailand’s courts. Four people — including the lead singer of the band Burn — have been acquitted. One other person has been jailed alongside Visuk while another individual was fined, the court said.

Visuk was initially convicted in a criminal court but the verdict was overturned by the Appeals Court. That verdict has been overturned once more by the Supreme Court, whose decision cannot be appealed.

Story: AFP/ Photo: Amarin TV

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