This site uses cookies to improve your experience and to provide services and advertising. By continuing to browse, you agree to the use of cookies described in our Cookies Policy. You may change your settings at any time but this may impact on the functionality of the site. To learn more see our Cookies Policy.
OK
Dublin: 3 °C Saturday 14 December, 2019
Advertisement

Stardust campaigners invoke Hillsborough and Grenfell probes in outlining 'compelling' case for new inquests

The government has ruled out new inquiries into the fire, but the Stardust Victims Committee have renewed their calls in recent weeks.

Police outside the main entrance of the Stardust after the fire.
Police outside the main entrance of the Stardust after the fire.
Image: Tony Harris/PA Images

THE EXAMPLE OF Hillsborough inquests shows that there is no reason why a “new, thorough investigation of the Stardust fire will not lead to the truth being revealed”, according to new documents seeking new inquests into the people who died at the Dublin club.

These new documents – seen by TheJournal.ie – were submitted to the Office of the Attorney General last week by campaigners calling for a new inquest into the deaths of those who perished in the Stardust fire.

The fire, which tore through a club in Artane, Co Dublin, on Valentine’s Day in 1981 remains the worst disaster of its kind in the history of the State. Forty-eight people died and more than 200 were injured.

An inquiry into the blaze previously put forward arson as the probable cause, but this was rejected by families and later overturned as part of a separate inquiry a decade ago.

Retired judge Pat McCartan was tasked in 2017 with examining whether there would be grounds to hold a new inquest into the fire. He ruled that a new inquiry was not warranted, saying there was no new evidence.

Fresh calls

In its submission to the Attorney General, solicitors Adam Straw and Darragh Mackin on behalf of the Stardust Victims Committee say that there a number of reasons why fresh inquests should be held into the deaths of the Stardust victims.

The original inquests only recorded the medical cause of death and offered “uninformative” conclusions, they said. “In a disaster of this magnitude a more informative conclusion was required in order to meet the public interest,” they wrote.

Furthermore, the central conclusion of the original inquiry into the fire from the Keane Tribunal that the probable cause of the fire was arson was quashed in 2009 by the government. 

There is also fresh evidence that could shed light on some matters that weren’t dealt with at previous inquiries, it is claimed.

“This includes important eye-witness evidence, together with assessments by a range of fire experts,” they said.

A central part of their claim are these detailed accounts from eyewitnesses who were outside the club on the night, who claim they saw the blaze originate in the roof space as opposed as to the West Alcove seating area of Stardust, which previous inquests and fire investigations into the blaze hinged on.

Highlighting the example of the Hillsborough inquests, which found in 2016 that the 96 Liverpool fans who died at the stadium in 1989 were unlawfully killed, they argue this demonstrates how a fresh inquiry can shed light on events that took place many years ago, even where detailed investigations already took place.

“There is no reason why a new, thorough investigation of the Stardust Fire will not lead to the truth being revealed, to those responsible being held to account, and to further lessons being learned to prevent a similar tragedy in the future,” they said.

New inquiry

In 2009, the government quashed the original finding that arson was the probable cause of the Stardust fire.

However, the government also declined to establish a new Tribunal to investigate the cause of the fire and has maintained that stance since.

In the new submission to the Attorney General, it is argued that the government’s basis for not opening a new Tribunal – the Coffey report in 2009 – was insufficient as that review’s terms of reference inhibited Paul Coffey from carrying out new inquiries.

The lawyers said: “His inability to initiate his own investigations or to make findings of fact, meant he was unable to ascertain where or how the fire started, and his examination was inconclusive.”

Furthermore, they said that the terms of reference for Judge McCartan also did not bring about any further investigation.

The document also discusses fresh eyewitness and expert testimony that could be considered in any future inquests or inquiry into the Stardust fire. 

The Stardust Victims Committee reached to lawyers working on the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, and were recommended to contact fire engineering expert Professor James Lygate from Edinburgh University. 

He wrote to say that there had been a “wide range of advances in the science of fire investigation since 1981, and that a review of the Stardust Fire using these modern methods would be worthwhile”.

New inquests could have wide-ranging effects too, it is argued.

This includes that aspects of building design and operation that were dangerous – and not identified in previous inquiries – could be identified to prevent the widespread loss of life in large public buildings again.

Secondly, it could lead to civil or criminal penalties for anyone who may have been responsible for the fire, they claim.  

Numerous legal precedence is also cited as they highlight the reasoning behind the calls for new inquests.

They conclude: “That is because a fresh investigation will allow the earlier inconclusive inquiries to be pursued further; because it is possible that it will lead to the identification and punishment, through civil or criminal sanction, of those responsible; and because it provides an opportunity ‘to recognise, if possible, the lessons to be learned so that a similar event can be avoided in future’.”

‘We want justice’

Speaking at a press conference last week, members of the Stardust Victims Committee outlined their hopes that these new calls would lead to direct action.

Antoinette Keegan, a leading member of the campaign who lost two sisters in the fire, said they have faced “many concrete walls” in their efforts for a new inquest to be held, but are now very confident their latest effort will yield results.

“We want truth, and we want justice,” she said, stressing that ‘it’s not fair on the parents’ of people who died in the fire, some of whom are now unwell, describing the repeated delays as “systematic abuse”.

The belief that this latest attempt could yield results was echoed by Jimmy Fitzpatrick, who himself survived the fire.

“We have more clout to prove our point,” he told TheJournal.ie.

“Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is due to meet us on the 29th May, I would like to put to him, ‘Listen, this didn’t happen on your shift, you lot aren’t responsible for this, so give the families closure, give them a hearing, give them a voice at least’.”

We’re never going away. The mothers and fathers are getting old, but we’re still around, and we’ve got people behind us.

With reporting from Nicky Ryan

  • Share on Facebook
  • Email this article
  •  

About the author:

Sean Murray

Read next:

COMMENTS (18)

This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
write a comment

    Leave a commentcancel