A Fire Investigative Officer has told the Coroners’ Court inquiring into Vespers Shimuzhila’s death that the fire, which gutted some student hostels at UNZA last year, was caused by teargas canisters fired by police officers.
However, the officer added that the fire could have also been a result of arson because there were other sources of ignition.
Meanwhile, a medical doctor has told the Coroners’ Court that when Vespers was taken to Levy Mwanawasa Teaching Hospital, she was already dead.
This is an inquest hearing before the Lusaka Subordinate Court to ascertain how the UNZA student, Vespers Shimuzhila, met her demise last year.
When the matter came up for continued hearing before coroner Sylvia Munyinya, Tuesday, Robert Banda, a deputy chief fire officer at Lusaka Fire Brigade, said the fire, which gutted students hostels at UNZA was caused by teargas canisters discharged by police officers.
He added that the teargas canisters caused the fire after coming into contact with combative materials in the students’ hostels.
Banda said his conclusion on the cause of the fire was based on scene examination and interviews with affected students.
“At all the times that we went to UNZA, we did not see police firing teargas canisters or the actual fire,” Banda narrated.
He, however, said there was a possibility that the source of fire could have been from somewhere else.
He said this was because there were five points of sources of fire and that only two were clear on where the fire came from.
Banda added that the several points, which showed where fire was ignited from, suggested arson.
“There were about five sites that had fire. When you have several sources of ignition, you can suspect arson,” he said.
Asked by a lawyer representing Vespers’ family whether he was saying that his report was not conclusive on the cause of fire, the witness agreed that it was not conclusive.
Further asked if police could be blamed for arson in an event where it was established that teargas canisters thrown in the hostels ignited the fire, the witness, who was at pains to give a definite response, replied: “I don’t know.”
And a medical doctor, who used to work at Levy Mwanawasa Teaching Hospital, narrated how health personnel received a case involving two patients, among them, a person she later came to know as Vespers.
Dr Taonga Msiska, who was at the time head of clinical care, said doctors at the hospital received two patients between 03:00 hours and 04:00hours.
She said one patient had multiple fractures in her feet and spine and was crying out in pain, while the other one was taken to the hospital in a lifeless state.
Dr Msiska said a doctor at the hospital merely certified her dead after examining her.
“The doctor certified her dead after an examination,” she said.
Dr Msiska said she later came to know the dead patient as Vespers.
She said the body was later taken to University Teaching Hospital (UTH) mortuary.
Meanwhile, a Crime Scene investigator, superintendent Lucas Shibalatani also testified how he was assigned to go and do a scene reconstruction following the riots at UNZA, which led to Vespers’ death.
Shibalatani said he couldn’t conclude looking at all the factors of his investigation as possibility of the crime scene being tempered with or disturbed were high due to the time it took between the incident and his visit to the scene.