Payout over Thailand fire 'pitiful'

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The Independent Online

Victims of a nightclub fire in Thailand have been awarded a "pitiful" amount of compensation, a lawyer for one of the Britons caught up in the blaze said today.

Sixty-seven people died and more than 100 were injured in the incident at Bangkok's upmarket Santika Club on New Year's Day 2009.

The Bangkok Criminal Court yesterday found nightclub owner Wisuk Sejsawat and company executive Boonchu Laosinart guilty of causing the deaths of other persons without intent and jailed them both for three years.

It also ordered Boonchu's company to pay 8.7 million baht (£162,000) in compensation to the victims or their families.

But British survivor Oliver Smart said his claim for his injuries alone had been valued at around the same amount.

And his lawyer, Clive Garner, a partner at Irwin Mitchell Solicitors, said there were "grave concerns" about the "very low level" of the payout.

"We have no information at this early stage as to how this will be shared between the victims," he said.

"This is a pitiful sum and is clearly insufficient to compensate those who have suffered serious injuries and the dozens of families who lost loved ones in this terrible incident.

"Even the costs of medical treatment and rehabilitation alone will significantly exceed this sum. We are very concerned about the injustice of the award and how this could affect the recovery of victims."

More than 1,000 revellers were inside the nightclub when an indoor fireworks display set off after the countdown to New Year ignited the blaze.

Mr Smart was one of four Britons taken to hospital after the stampede to flee it.

The 35-year-old from Sheffield had gone to Thailand to visit his girlfriend, who lived there, and was celebrating New Year's Eve with her when the fire broke out.

He spent six weeks in hospital, where he was treated for serious burns to his body, face, hands and back in intensive care, and was forced to take five months off work, his lawyer said.

Mr Smart, an area manager for an insurance firm, said it had been a "devastating experience" for his whole family and labelled the amount of compensation ordered "disappointing".

He said: "I have spent months in hospital and I am likely to be on medication for the rest of my life.

"I'm relieved that at last someone is going to be held accountable for what happened. I was worried that no action would be taken but hopefully now people realise the importance of health and safety measures and regulations, and measures will be put in place to prevent anything like this from happening again.

"However, it is disappointing to see how much those responsible have been asked to pay the victims. My own claim for my injuries has been valued at around the same amount that the court has ordered to be paid in total to all of the victims and the families of those that died."

His lawyer said the firm would continue to investigate all available avenues in seeking to obtain full and fair financial compensation for Mr Smart.

"This is a truly tragic case," he added. "While it will be of some relief to the victims to see those responsible brought to justice, the fight to enable victims to receive full and fair compensation including the treatment and rehabilitation they deserve now continues."