We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.

Eamon Butterly at the inquest in September 2023.
to the courts

How Eamon Butterly tried and failed to remove 'unlawful killing' as a verdict at Stardust inquests

The former Stardust manager wanted the High Court to rule that this was not a verdict open to the jury.

FORMER STARDUST MANAGER Eamon Butterly went to the High Court in the final days of the Stardust inquests in a last-ditch attempt to prevent the jury from being able to consider a verdict of unlawful killing, it can be revealed.

These efforts failed, as the jury in the inquests today delivered verdicts of unlawful killing in the case of all 48 victims. No liability was found against any individual or company as part of the inquest verdict. 

Last month, Butterly had instructed his legal team to seek a judicial review into the decision by the coroner to give the jury the option of unlawful killing in each of the 48 deaths. 

The media was not allowed to report on the details of this at the time due to reporting restrictions. The jury was never told about this as it could have influenced their deliberations.

Butterly’s legal team made the intervention on Wednesday 27 March, just as coroner Myra Cullinane was about to begin giving final instructions to the jury before they retired to make their decision.

Among Butterly’s arguments were that the coroner had erred in law in separate decisions she made to allow the jury return a verdict of unlawful kiling where there is a limited number of connected people associated with such a verdict, according to the evidence adduced.

Butterly’s lawyers argued that such a verdict would be highly prejudicial and would damage his reputation as it was feared that blame could be attributed to him.

It was submitted that it is not lawfully open for a jury to attribute blame to any individual or individuals.

If the judicial review had been allowed to go ahead, it would have potentially thrown the inquests into chaos. Judicial reviews take a significant amount of time and may have led to the jury being discharged and a new jury sworn in after almost a year of hearing evidence.

It was the fifth time since the inquests process began that Butterly had tried to have unlawful killing removed as an option for the jury to consider.

He had previously tried in a pre-inquest hearing in 2022 and then in a subsequent judicial review in the High Court.

In November 2022, Mr Justice Charles Meenan refused Butterly’s application and said he was satisfied the ruling by the coroner- that a verdict of unlawful killing could not be ruled out – was correct in law.

The judge said he was satisfied that a jury at the inquests may bring in a verdict of unlawful killing. However, he said such a verdict could only be available in circumstances where no person or persons is identified or identifiable as subject to censure as a result of the verdict. 

Final effort 

In March 2024, just days before the jury were to retire to begin considering their verdicts, lawyers for Butterly made a dramatic last minute application to again have the verdict of unlawful killing removed from consideration.

A barrister acting for families of the victims argued that the application was an attempt “to undermine the entire inquest process itself”.

Paul O’Higgins SC representing Eamon Butterly argued that it would not be fair to his client to allow the jury to consider it as a verdict as his name is associated so closely with the venue, and that it would undermine the entire inquest process.

The result was handed down by Mr Justice Tony O’Connor in the High Court on 28 March. The usual sittings of the court had been suspended for Easter as it was Holy Thursday, so the Four Courts building was almost deserted at the time.

The judge said that there were ‘unarguable grounds’ to apply for leave for a judicial review.

However in refusing to grant the request for the judicial review, the judge questioned whether the application had been premature in being taken over the coroner’s charging of the jury before she had even done it.

The judge also said he wanted to avoid a big gap between the jury hearing the evidence and giving their verdict.

During the proceedings the judge agreed with lawyers for the parties that the media should not report on the application until after the verdict had been given.

After the decision was handed down in the High Court, the legal teams hurried back to the Pillar Room in the Rotunda Hospital, where the inquests took place.

Coroner Myra Cullinane then gave final instructions to the jury and allowed them to retire to consider their verdict. They had heard from over 370 witnesses and hundreds of hours of evidence over the course of nearly a year before they made their decision.

The five options open to the jury were unlawful killing, accidental death, misadventure, an open verdict or a narrative verdict.

Unlike in a criminal case, nobody is found guilty or innocent at an inquest, and no criminal or civil liability is determined. Instead, an inquest is used to determine the facts surrounding how, when and where the death of someone occurred.

In addition to determining verdicts of unlawful killing in the deaths of all 48 people, the jury also determined that the fatal fire that started in the hot press on the nightclub’s premises.

Additional reporting by Ryan Dunne, Fiona Magennis and Aodhán Ó Faoláin

Christine Bohan and Rónán Duffy