Page last updated at 13:14 GMT, Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Charges over fatal Thai Santika nightclub fire

Police outside Santika in Bangkok, Thailand (1 Jan 2009)
The fire is believed to have been started by fireworks inside

Four people have been formally charged over a New Year's Eve nightclub fire in Bangkok that left 67 people dead.

More than 200 people, including tourists from Australia, Britain and France, were injured in the Santika club blaze in the early hours of 2009.

Three Santika employees and the lead singer of the band on stage when the fire broke out have been charged with various counts of gross negligence.

Thai police have been criticised for the slow pace of their investigation.

Band singer Saravuth Ariya has been charged with setting off the fireworks that police believe sparked the blaze.

The fire broke out in the packed club as about 1,000 people were celebrating the start of the new year.

Hundreds of people were trapped inside the building, which had no proper fire exits, no sprinkler system and no emergency lights.

Witnesses said people were trying to find their way to the single exit using their mobile phones for light.

No checks

Both the Thai police and the justice ministry carried out investigations into the disaster.

Rescue workers carry a body from the Bangkok nightclub

The ministry found the club had been registered as a private residence and not an entertainment venue, so was not subject to safety inspections.

The club had been operating in a zone where nightclubs were banned and a city architect's signature approving the building design had been forged, said investigators.

Most of the people killed in the disaster were Thai, but three Singaporeans, one Japanese and a Burmese national were among the dead, the Bangkok Post reported.

Clive Garner, a lawyer for Oliver Smart from Yorkshire in the UK -one of the four British people injured - said the charges brought the case closer to a 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," the Press Association quoted him as saying.

Three more people have been indicted over the fire but were not in court.

Santika's co-owner and the head of the company that installed the pyrotechnics both said they were too ill to attend court, while a third person remains on the run.

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