DUBAI // Six months after their two children died of suspected food poisoning, Patrick D'Souza and his wife Anne-Sophie are still waiting for answers. Chelsea, seven, and Nathan, five, died on June 13 and 14 after eating takeaway food from a Chinese restaurant in Dubai. But the authorities have yet to release a statement about what caused their deaths, and no one has been prosecuted.
Mr D'Souza, from India, described December as the "most painful" month. Chelsea would have turned eight on December 2, with Nathan's sixth birthday four days later. "Chelsea used to get all the attention at school as she was born on UAE National Day. She used to celebrate it with flags of the UAE and other things," Mr D'Souza said. "Nothing is back to normal. Sometimes I feel it all just happened yesterday. There is an emptiness that does not go away, despite my trying hard to indulge in work and other things. There are moments when it hits you, and that is painful."
More than 500 mourners gathered at St Mary's Catholic Church a few days after the tragedy. Thousands of UAE residents offered support to the parents on a Facebook group. The deaths also resulted in some changes to food-safety procedures in the emirate and the country. "The last meeting we heard about was of expert doctors from Rashid Hospital who were to prepare a report a few months ago," Mr D'Souza said. "We have heard nothing since. It's so hard to find out anything. Sometimes we are so much in pain that we do not bother."
On the evening of Friday, June 12, the children, their French mother and the family's housemaid ate a meal from the Lotus Garden restaurant in Al Qusais. All four fell ill that night and were taken to the New Medical Centre Specialty Hospital near their home. They were discharged after treatment. But the condition of Nathan and Chelsea worsened and they were taken back to hospital on Saturday. Nathan was pronounced dead on arrival. Chelsea was moved to Dubai Hospital. She died the next day.
The Lotus Garden was closed by Dubai Municipality as a precaution. It reopened in September after being given a clean bill of health. Vangie Monjardin, the managing partner, insisted the restaurant's food had not been responsible for the deaths. "We strongly believe that it was not our food, since it was proved by the tests done by Dubai Central Laboratory and through the toxicology report from Germany as stated by the director of Dubai Municipality," she said. "That's why we were given a consent to reopen."
Dubai Municipality confirmed the health clearance but refused to comment further. Minor improvements were made in the kitchen, and the restaurant also enrolled in the "Menu Safe" programme, a protocol recommended by the municipality. Dubai Public Prosecution began an investigation into the deaths and post mortem examinations were performed on the children's bodies before they were buried in France.
Prosecutors said they would be making the only official comments on the case. Since then, there has been no word from health bosses. However, at the time of the deaths, Qadhi Saeed al Murooshid, the director general of Dubai Health Authority, acknowledged that there had been "mistakes, contradictions and misunderstandings" in the treatment of the children. "It is hard proving that food poisoning was the cause of death," he said in a television interview. "But it is also clear that the cases should have been under careful watch for at least three hours, and that perhaps they were released too soon.
"The main problem is there is carelessness and negligence, and perhaps this is a case of medical malpractice. But we cannot say as we are still investigating." After requests to public prosecutors, there has been no indication of whether or not the case is being investigated. Prosecutors have not commented since the receipt of the test results from abroad. In September, police said the results proved the restaurant was not to blame.
Khalifa bin Deemas, Dubai's advocate general, did not respond to queries last week. The D'Souzas wait, surrounded by memories. "I can't move from here," Mr D'Souza said. "All my children's belongings are as they were in their room. I feel guilty to remove all that and move out." firstname.lastname@example.org * With additional reporting by Awad Mustafa