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Heads jailed for neglect over fire

KENYA

THE head and deputy head of a secondary school have each been jailed for eight months for failing to prevent a dormitory fire in which 67 students died.

Nairobi principal magistrate Rosemelle Mutoka found the head of Kyanguli school, David Kiilu, and his deputy, Stephen Kasyoka, guilty of neglecting to take reasonable preventive action after smelling petrol.

"The accused failed to carry out searches in the dormitories and in the students' boxes," said the magistrate.

She also said that the two were aware of growing unrest at the school, which is 50 miles south-east of Nairobi. Mr Kasyoka had briefed the school's prefects and addressed the students on discipline matters only a day before the fire, which is believed to have been started by arsonists.

However, two days before the fire broke out, leaflets had been circulated urging students to boycott classes. "The accused knew of the leaflets and the strong smell of petrol, but decided not to seek help from the police," said the magistrate.

The two senior staff were arrested in March last year, after the fire razed the boys' dormitory. Sixty-seven boys died after being unable to escape from the building. The dormitory was overcrowded and its doors were locked from the outside. Metal grilles barred the windows.

However, the national teachers' union has reacted angrily to the jailing of the head and deputy.

Francis Ng'ang'a, secretary-general of the Kenya National Union of Teachers, said the court was wrong to send the teachers to prison.

"The sentence is harsh and shocking to the extreme," said Mr Ng'ang'a. The union asked the teachers' lawyers to appeal to the high court.

The magistrate warned that there was rampant indiscipline among students in most secondary schools in the country and cautioned teachers to take precautionary measures.

"This should be a lesson to those in authority in schools that they are responsible for the safety of students," Ms Mutoka said.

Two students, Felix Ngumbao and Davies Onyango, are standing trial at the high court for the murder of the 67 Kyanguli students. They have denied the charges.

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