The owners of an upmarket nightclub in Bangkok where scores of people died in a horrific New Year party blaze did not have the correct permits to operate but were allowed to open for business anyway by Thai police, it was claimed today.
Deputy Police Commissioner General Jongrak Juthanon of the Royal Thai Police claimed the police had refused to allow the Santika club to open in 2004, but it opened anyway while appealing to the Bangkok Administrative court.
The case has been in the courts for four years.
'We found it did not confirm to standards,' he said.
The Bangkok Post newspaper, claiming a source in the Bangkok metropolitan police, said the Santika was registered only as a night-time food shop and the licence required it to close at midnight.
It was actually in an area which in 2003 was declared a 'non entertainment zone' under Bangkok city zoning laws.
The contradictions accent Thailand's laissez-faire attitude to public safety.
The owners of the Santika bar, named as Suwit and Wisook Sejsawat, have not been seen since the fire which is now known to have killed 59 people and injured over 200, including four Britons, two of whom are in a hospital's ICU.
Police say at the moment all they can charge the owners with is allowing an under-aged person into the club. One of the fatalities was a 17-yr-old Thai youth.
No entertainment establishments can operate in Bangkok without permission of police and almost all have to pay monthly under-the-counter stipends to police, for a hassle free existence.
The particular police station in control of Ekamai Road the location of the Santika Night club is Thong Lor police station. The same station also controls Soi Cowboy a street of a-go-go and sex bars, where early today there was another fire in a bar called 'Rawhide' - like its neighbour 'Long Gun' known for the sound of whips cracked by bar-girls dressed in black PVC.
Fortunately there were no casualties.Neither the Rawhide nor any bar in Soi Cowboy has a back way out, although two have two front doors. Despite Bangkok's risqu? international reputation, prostitution and soliciting for prostitutes is against the law.
Legally the sex bars do not exist or the shows with whips, lighted candles etc.
Londoner Alex Wargacki, 29, from Finchley, said in the ICU unit at Bangkok's Samitivej Hospital: 'The Santika was a death trap. But so are many, if not most night time venues in Bangkok.
'They keep the exits to a minimum because they owners do not want anyone to run away without paying a bill.
'Foreigners living here come to accept that. But the club still has to accept responsibility for the deaths and injuries. I am going to insist the club pays my hospital bill, which after one day is already over ?1500.'
Earlier he had told how he was saved from the fire by a man with 'the hand of an angel'.
'I woke up and heard this voice saying. 'Come on. Come on this way' . Then I felt myself being dragged towards an exit. A crowd of people parted in front of me and then I was out in the open air.
'Had it not been for this voice with the hand of an angel I would not be alive today. The voice sounded as if he was Thai. Maybe he was one of the people at the New Year's party.
'Maybe he was a fireman. But when I get out of hospital I want to thank him for sure.'
Mr. Wargacki, a Forex trader, had been partying with seven friends to rap and hip hop music in the club.
'Suddenly to the right of the stage I saw a firework being let off amongst a crowd of partygoers. I shot right across the room. I don't know exactly how long, but it seemed no time at all when the whole place, walls and ceilings were ablaze.
'Then everyone started running for the door. But the door seemed tiny and people were jammed up against it. If there was another way out, none of us knew about it, and all the windows were barred.
'There were flames from the floor to the ceiling. I could hear windows cracking and breaking in the heat.
'I felt myself going unconscious. I knew something was happening to my lungs. I could not breathe. I blacked out and fell to the floor. That's when I heard the voice.'