Seven charged over Bangkok nightclub fire

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The Independent Online

Thai prosecutors today charged seven people over a nightclub blaze that killed 66 and saw British revellers among the 200-plus people left injured, according to local reports.

The Bangkok Post said the owner of the Santika club and the lead singer of the band playing that night are among those charged over the inferno, which is believed to have broken out after fireworks were set off to celebrate New Year's Eve 2008.

The resulting fire saw partygoers scrambling to get out of the upmarket Bangkok club, but their escape was hindered by inadequate exits, according to emergency workers.

Four Britons were injured in the blaze including Oliver Smart, 35, from Millhouses, Sheffield, South Yorkshire, who suffered severe burns, damage to his airway, renal failure and high blood pressure.

His solicitor Clive Garner, from law firm Irwin Mitchell, welcomed today's development and called on Thai authorities to bring the case to trial quickly so that justice can be seen to be done.

According to the Bangkok post, those charged include Wisuk Setsawat, an executive of Santika nightclub, Thawatchai Srithumma, the venue's general manager, and Saravuth Ariya, lead singer of the band Burn.

They face counts of carelessness leading to deaths and injuries, the newspaper reported.

Others indicted over the fire include entertainment manager Pongthep Jinda, marketing manager Puthipong Walailikree, Suriya Ritrabue, of the company which owns the club, and Boonchu Laosihart, from the firm which provided the special effects for the night.

Four men - Thawatchai, Pongthep, Puthipong and Saravuth - appeared in court to hear their formal charges being read.

The fire caught hold shortly after midnight as revellers were celebrating the New Year.

Police said at the time that it could have been started by sparks from a pyrotechnic display.

It quickly turned into an inferno, with toxic smoke filling the venue.

It has been claimed that a shortage of exits and the fact that bars were placed across second-floor windows added to the plight of those trapped inside.

Speaking about the incident, Mr Smart said: "The fire spread quickly - suddenly I was aware of an overpowering heat and flames engulfing the club.

"Everybody was terrified and desperately trying to find a way out."

He spent three months in hospital and said he will be on medication for the rest of his life.

Other injured Britons included Alex Wargacki, a foreign exchange worker from London, who was living in Bangkok at the time, and Steven Hall, from Cardiff, South Wales.

Mr Garner, who represents Mr Smart, said today: "This is a step forward in the criminal process and brings it closer to conclusion.

"The process has been slower than we would have liked, but we hope that the Thai authorities will bring these charges before the courts as quickly as possible."

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