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The 48 victims of the Stardust fire Sasko Lazarov
stardust inquest

Stardust survivor gives account of holding victim's hand before being pulled away by the crowd

One person said she saw the ceiling on fire and the whole place was black.

A SURVIVOR OF the Stardust fire has told an inquest of holding the hands of one of the victims as they both attempted to escape the flames before the force of the crowd pulled them apart.  

Tina Brazil, who was 17 at the time and was in the nightclub with Carol Bissett, today told the jury in the Dublin District Coroner’s Court that she will never forget the “big ball of smoke” she saw on the night the fatal fire killed 48 people when it swept through the Stardust in the early hours of 14 February, 1981.  

In her original statement, which was read out by the court registrar, Brazil said she saw smoke that was black and thick. She said she saw men trying to kick exit five to open it and there was something obstructing the doorway. 

She said she found her friend Catherine Moore outside but could not find Carol Bissett. She later found out that Carol had died in hospital as a result of the fire.  

In response to questioning by Gemma McLoughlin-Burke BL, a member of the coroner’s legal team, Brazil said that her friend Catherine was dragged out, but Brazil and Carol Bissett went a different way.   

“I held Carol’s hands, then it was like broke, we broke away. I think I was carried forward and she was carried back,” she said.   

She said she saw people kicking at the door, and there was “some sort of obstacle”. She said the people kicking at the door were taking turns as their legs were hurting that much. She said that eventually the doors gave way due to the pressure, and people fell on top of each other.  

Becoming emotional during the delivery of her evidence, Brazil said that outside she was trying to find her friends, and she thought she saw Carol Bissett when people were “lining the dead”.   

“They were rotating people as people were dying,” she said.   

Catherine Moore, who was in the company of Brazil and Carol Bissett, also gave evidence. In her original statement, read into the record by the court registrar, Moore said that the place was black with smoke, and there was a lot of screaming, crying and pushing. 

She said there were 20 to 30 people in the passageway, and she heard them say: “Oh God, the door is closed.” She said that they all moved forward suddenly, and she fell on hands and knees before being grabbed and dragged out.  

Moore told McLoughlin-Burke that she saw the ceiling on fire and the whole place was black. She said that when she was dragged out, she cut her hands and legs on glass.   

“Everyone was screaming, ‘We’re locked in, we can’t get out’. I could just see the top of the doors, they were closed. People were pushing and pushing, but there was no movement,” she said.   

She said people began panicking more because it was so dark, and she saw “the flames getting higher and coming closer”.   

“The fear took over, you just wanted to get out,” she said.  

The jury also heard evidence from Pauline Jenkins. In her original statement, which was read out by the court registrar, Jenkins said that when she went to exit four after the fire started, it was closed and locked, with a chain wrapped around the bars of the door and a padlock on the chain.   

She said a man was trying to kick the door out, but he could not open it, so she ran to exit five, which was also closed. She said there was a container of bottles at exit five, and when the door then opened, she was carried out by the crowd. Jenkins said that once outside, she saw a large white van parked up to the steps of exit three.  

In response to questions from McLoughlin-Burke, Jenkins said that she saw people at the door trying to get out, and they tried everything, but the door would not budge. She said she “remembered clear as anything” seeing the chain on the door.  

Further evidence was heard from Noeleen Kearney, who in her original statement said that she saw the fire go up towards the ceiling and the ceiling caught fire.   

“Everyone was screaming, and the place was black with smoke. I couldn’t see where I was going. There was a large crowd pushing towards exit five,” she said.

Kearney said that in the push towards the exit, she walked into a wall, tripped on something and fell, and her arm went into a skip of bottles that was right beside the exit. She said that when she got up, she was pushed out by the crowd.  

She told McLoughlin-Burke that she was getting pushed so she just had to go with the crowd.   

“It was just chaos. Everyone was trying to get out. I tripped over a blue basin with bottles in it, and this chap picked me up and helped me out the door,” she said, explaining that what she tripped over was “like a big bath” that was used for empty bottles.   

“There were crowds of people everywhere and people were screaming. When we were outside, we could hear them screaming to get out,” she said.  

Kearney said that people were coming out and getting trampled on. She went on to say that there was “pandemonium”.  

The jury also heard evidence from Patrick Coates, who was 18 at the time and in the nightclub that night with four of the people who lost their lives, George O’Connor, Martina Keegan, David Morton and Liam Dunne.  

In his original statement, Coates said that thick black smoke came down on him, so he put his jacket over his head and that of his girlfriend. He said they managed to get out of exit five.  

“I was choked with smoke, my hair was singed and there were blisters on my nose,” he said.  

Coates told McLoughlin-Burke that he saw the flames shooting across the ceiling, so he and his girlfriend went down the stairs, and by the time they got to the bottom of the stairs it was completely black. He said that he and his girlfriend fell, and he remembered a safety programme he had seen on television about smoke staying around 12 inches above the ground, so he told his girlfriend to crawl.  

He said that they went to one exit, and it was locked. He said he crawled along with his girlfriend and then felt fresh air, and they were lucky to get out.  

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