Woman who set deadly Paris hotel fire avoids jail


Paris (AFP)

A French woman convicted of causing a hotel fire that killed 24 people including 11 children walked free on Tuesday after an appeals court reduced her sentence.

The Paris court eased the jail term for Fatima Tahrour given by a lower court in January 2014 from three years to two, opening the way for alternatives such as house arrest or electronic monitoring.

The night-time inferno, the deadliest in the city since the 1944 liberation of Paris during World War II, gutted the Paris-Opera Hotel in April 2005.

Tahrour, who was 31 at the time, admitted accidentally causing the fire during a fight with her then-boyfriend, Nabil Dekali, a night watchman at the hotel.

In a fit of anger, she flung some clothes on some burning candles and stormed out.

Dekali, who had taken cocaine and alcohol, was accused of not contacting firemen immediately and trying to douse the flames himself.

The mother of one of the victims screamed "You killed my baby" when the ruling was pronounced, prompting the judge to clear the court.

Since the fire, Tahrour has only spent one week in jail -- ahead of the initial trial.

Another woman who lost a child, 36-year-old Vania Mendes, told reporters afterwards that Tahrour "had contempt for all of the victims. I can never put it behind me. I lost my daughter Patricia who was about to turn two. I have been sentenced to life."

But Tahrour's lawyer Philippe Blanchetier said he found the ruling fair.

"I'm aware that this decision is incomprehensible for some plaintiffs. I hope that time will ease the pain," he said.

The hotel, which housed many struggling immigrant families, was located just behind the upmarket Galeries Lafayette department store, a landmark in the French capital.

Dekali's parents Rachid and Fatima, who managed the building, were also tried for allowing too many guests, as there were 77 people living in the hotel, which had a legal capacity of 62.

The mother was acquitted but the father was jailed for two years.

Firemen who arrived at the building described an "apocalyptic scene", with bodies having "rained down on the street, and panicked people throwing children out of windows".

Aomar Ikhlef, who heads an association of the victims of the fire, said: "Madame Tahrour won't go to jail, she's won. She caused 24 deaths, plunged 20 times that many more people into mourning, without counting those who were handicapped (by the fire), and the appeal court sided with her."

The blaze was one of several that year in buildings housing foreigners in Paris, sparking a public outcry over housing for the poor and prompting authorities to reinforce fire standards in hotels.