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The 48 victims of the Stardust fire Sasko Lazarov/

Stardust survivor tells inquest fire was a 'monster' that was 'coming after you'

The inquest continues today in the Pillar Room of the Rotunda Hospital.

A STARDUST SURVIVOR has told an inquest how the fatal fire was like “a monster, a living thing that was coming after you”, as she recounted how, after battling to escape, she thought she was going to die as she lay on the floor with one of the victims.

“To this day, I don’t know why I didn’t bring Sandra with me,” Deborah Osbourne yesterday told the Dublin District Coroner’s Court, referring to Sandra Lawless, one of the 48 young people who lost their lives when the flames consumed the Stardust nightclub in the early hours of 14 February 1981.

The jury heard how Osbourne suffered burns to her head and body and lost the lining to her lungs due to the smoke, while her friends Sandra Lawless and Paula Lewis tragically lost their lives.

Osbourne, who was 19 on the night, told Gemma McLoughlin-Burke BL, a member of the coroner’s legal team, that when the lights started dimming after the fire broke out, she and her three friends headed towards exits five and six.

“We held each other’s hands, four in a row. It was like something chased you. I got such a feeling, a belt and a bang on the back of my neck, which was the heat, then it came all around,” she said.

She told the jury that at that stage, she and her friends broke hands, and there was thick black smoke that was burning.

“Imagine plastic on a fire and your face crinkling. I couldn’t see a thing. It was like being in a bedroom on a dark night. I screamed and called their names, then I fell to the ground. It was very hard to get back up because people were panicking, and you were getting pushed back down. If you put your hand on a seat to get up, your hand stuck to the seat, and you had to pull the skin away,” said Osbourne.

She said she made herself lie down on the floor and she found Sandra, and they were hugging each other.

“I hope this will bring solace to Sandra’s father and Paula’s mother and father, it was like you’re going somewhere nice, you’re going towards something, you’re just reaching out to get to that place,” she said, going on to say that another friend then shook her and told her to get up.

“To this day, I don’t know why I didn’t take Sandra with me. I’m sorry about that,” she said.

She said she stumbled and then felt fresh air, so she crawled out through exit five.

“I always call the heat a monster, a living thing that was coming after you to get you,” she said, going on to say that it was “survival of the fittest”.

“I put my hand on the seat to try to get up and my hand stuck to the seat, I had to pull the skin away, my skin was coming away with it, it was that hot,” she said.

She told Bernard Condon SC, representing the family of Sandra Lawless, that the smoke was “like eating coal dust”. She said that she felt she wanted to go to sleep, which was more than likely due to smoke inhalation.

“You’re trying to get out, you fight so hard, and then you just give up, you can’t do any more. You think you’re going to die, the end has come,” she said.

She told the jury that her injuries included burns on her hand, shoulder, arm, face and head, and the smoke burnt the lining off her lungs.

“I’m coughing constantly. People think I’m a smoker, but I’ve never smoked in my life,” she said.

She told Conan Fegan BL, representing the family of Paula Lewis, that the last time she saw Paula was when they were holding hands “before the monster came”.

Other evidence

The jury also heard evidence from Paula O’Connor, who, in her original statement, said that she saw crates blocking the doors of exit five and there were six or seven people trying to remove them. She said she ran to another exit door which was closed and there were about a dozen people trying to force it open. She said she finally got out through exit five.

Donal Clinch, who was 19 at the time and in the company of one of the people who lost their lives, John Colgan, gave evidence that he helped to pull people out of the burning building. In his original statement, he said he helped pull one burnt man out and carried him to an ambulance.

He told McLoughlin-Burke that he could hear people screaming inside the Stardust but could not see them because of the smoke.

“You got down on your hands and knees, you would search around with your hands, and someone would hold you, because if you went back in, you wouldn’t have got back out,” he said, explaining that someone was holding his legs to help him get back out.

“It was not just me, there were other people on their hands and knees trying to pull people out,” he said, going on to say that it was patrons of the nightclub who were working together to pull people out.

The jury also heard evidence from Shirley McGregor, who was in the company of Jacqueline Croker, one of the people who lost their lives.

In her original statement, McGregor said that when she saw the fire, she jumped into her male friend’s arms, and he carried her out. She said that the man then went back into the building, and she later saw him coming out of exit three with a burnt body in his arms.

She told Mark Tottenham BL, a member of the coroner’s legal team, that when she and her friend were first exiting the Stardust, her friend had to throw her over a skip filled with empty bottles that was just outside the exit door.

“I could see people trying to move it, but it was so heavy they couldn’t move it,” she said.

She also said that it looked as if the person she saw her friend carrying out was deceased.

The jury also heard the evidence of unavailable witness Damien Fallon, whose statement was read out by a member of the coroner’s legal team.

In the statement, Fallon said that when he was outside the club, he saw a girl making a run for the door, but a ball of fire came from the ceiling, and she was thrown back into the hall and fell on her back.

“She was screaming and crying. Her hands and legs were sticking up in the air like she was paralysed, and she was engulfed in flames,” said Fallon.

The inquest continues today in the Pillar Room of the Rotunda Hospital.