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Electrical fault

Stardust inquests: Jury determines fire started in hot press and was caused by electrical fault

Before today, the cause of the devastating blaze had never been officially determined.

THE JURY OF the Stardust inquests has determined that the fire that led to the deaths of 48 people in 1981 started in the hot press on the nightclub’s premises.

Before today, the cause of the devastating blaze had never been officially determined. 

The jury’s long-awaited findings have been read out in the Pillar Room of the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin this afternoon.

The jury has determined that the fire was caused by an electrical fault. 

The jury also determined that the carpet tiles on the walls of the Stardust ballroom contributed to the spread of the fire. 

A verdict of unlawful killing was returned for each of the 48 victims. 

In the initial tribunal of inquiry in 1981, the cause of the fire was deemed to be unknown but that it was likely to have been started deliberately. The presumption was heavily disputed.

Years later, in 2008, the government commissioned an independent examination of new evidence. While that probe did not lead to a definitive ruling on the fire’s cause either, it did recommended the verdict of the 1981 tribunal be struck from the public record.

Screenshot 2024-04-18 at 15.56.40 An image from the 1981 Keane Tribunal of the immersion boiler in the hot press at the main bar. Keane Tribunal Keane Tribunal

“None of the victims of the Stardust disaster or the persons present at the Stardust on the night of the fire can be held responsible for the fire,” then Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern told the Dáil in 2009. “We simply cannot say how the fire was caused and nobody present on the night can be held responsible for its cause.”

In testimony given to the recent inquests in January an expert witness said that an electrical fault in a hot press was “a likely cause” of the blaze.

Dr Will Hutchinson, who has 23 years of experience as a fire investigator, added that it was “difficult to see” how the fire would have got out of control without the presence of carpet tiles on the walls of the nightclub.

Screenshot 2024-04-18 at 15.56.56 A close-up photograph of a poor electrical connection at the live terminal on top of the immersion heater. Keane Tribunal Keane Tribunal

At the time, Dr Hutchinson confirmed to Seán Guerin SC, representing a number of the families of the victims, that expert electrical reports identified defects in the electrical installation in the Stardust.

Guerin said that there were issues identified with the overloading of circuits, particularly in the stage area.

He said that backstage there had been a bank of additional sockets put in, and the jury had heard evidence from people who performed in the Stardust that they were powering multiple lighting units through a system of sockets.

Dr Hutchinson agreed that this potentially could be a serious issue.

Back in January, Dr Hutchinson said that an electrical fault in the hot press was one of two options he had identified, the other being that there was an accidental or deliberate ignition of a seat in the west alcove of the building.

“Isn’t the electrical fault in the hot press the likely cause of the fire in the Stardust?” asked Guerin.

“Yes, it is a likely cause,” replied Dr Hutchinson.

Additional reporting by Nicky Ryan and IINA

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