Nakumatt bosses grilled over fire

February 4, 2009 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 4 – Two senior managers at Nakumatt Holdings recorded statements with detectives late on Tuesday over last week’s fire tragedy in one of their supermarket branches that killed at least 27 people, with a dozen others still missing.

Those questioned include the supermarket chain’s Operations Director Thiagarajan Ramamurthy and another senior manager, who were summoned to the Central Police station.

A senior police officer told Capital News that the two managers arrived at the station shortly before 7pm and were grilled until 10pm, when they were allowed to leave.

“They recorded statements to assist us in the investigations. We are still studying what they told us,” he said and declined to reveal contents of the statements recorded by the two senior managers.

“Among other things, we are interested to know about claims that there are people who locked up doors as customers and staff tried to dash out for safety,” he said.

The two managers were also asked to report to the station regularly until the investigations are completed.

“They are still required because the probe is not over. They will be reporting here regularly until advised otherwise,” he added.

Head of Police Operations Mr Peter Kavila said detectives were under instructions to conclusively establish if claims of locking up shoppers and staff in the supermarket are true.

“We are particularly investigating claims that when the fire broke out, a person or persons believed to be part of Nakumatt management prevented the customers from escaping to safety,” he said.

The January 28 fire tragedy consumed the entire Woolworths House, burning down the 24-hour Nakumatt Downtown branch.

Kenya Red Cross Secretary General Abbas Gullet has said that at least 47 people have been reported missing after the inferno.

Nine bodies of some of those reported missing have since been identified positively at the City Mortuary. 18 others have not been identified, while 20 are yet to be accounted for, according to police.

Bio-tech Forensics, a private firm contracted to conduct DNA tests on the remains was still collecting and analysing samples on Wednesday at the City Mortuary.

Its director Lynn Farah said results of the DNA tests will be ready on February 17.

“It is in our best interest to have the results as quickly as possible because we understand what the affected families are undergoing,” she said.

Meanwhile, families affected by the Nakumatt fire tragedy on Wednesday said that they are planning to take legal action against the supermarket chain’s management.

32 Family members for those reported missing met at the City Mortuary on Tuesday and chose Mr John Mutungi of Muthoga Gaturu and Company Advocates to champion their concerns.

“One of the options we are considering is going to court as a group. We are still meeting and deliberating on all those issues and exploring other avenues, including compensation,” he told reporters.

Mr Mutungi, who also lost a niece in the inferno, said that they were particularly concerned with reports that the supermarket doors were closed when the fire started, preventing their relatives and other people in the supermarket from dashing out for safety.

“That amounts to criminal negligence, and that is one of the angles we are exploring. The supermarket management also issued a statement soon after the incident and assured that all their staff and customers had been evacuated, thus giving the wrong impression to the fire-fighters,” he said.



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