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The 48 victims of the Stardust fire. Sasko Lazarov/
stardust inquest

Stardust families 'have waited longer than Moses in the desert without justice', inquest told

Closing speeches by legal teams on behalf of the bereaved families continued at the inquest today.

THE “SUNLIGHT” THAT has been shed on the evidence before the Stardust inquests has “gone a long way in removing the stains, rumours, lies and mistakes” that have “haunted” the families of the victims “since before the embers of the fire even went out,” a barrister has told the jury.

Another barrister told the Dublin District Coroner’s Court jury today that the families of the victims “have waited longer than Moses wandered in the desert without justice”.

At the inquest today, closing speeches by legal teams on behalf of the bereaved families continued.

In her remarks to the jury yesterday, Brenda Campbell KC, representing a number of the families of the victims, said that the carpet tiles on the walls of the Stardust were wholly unsuitable as wall coverings, as they plainly did not meet the requirements of the chief fire officer, and it ought to have been known at the time that they were unsuitable.

“The presence of those tiles substantially contributed to the rapid spread of that fire, and the presence of those carpet tiles therefore directly caused or substantially contributed to the deaths of the 48 who never came home,” said Campbell.

Continuing her closing address today, Campbell said the then Dublin Corporation, responsible for building inspections and oversight, “had to know of an about a year-long “gap” in enforcement inspections that “resulted in thousands of young people attending the Stardust without any check on fire safety and compliance”.

“There were opportunities to right wrongs,” said Campbell. She also noted that there was no request to Dublin Corporation from the operators of the Stardust club for carpet tiles to be fitted to walls of the venue.

Campbell said that an electrical inspector had raised concerns about doors and emergency procedures generally, in 1979, 1980 and 1981.

Campbell said that in a letter from Eamon Butterly dated 5 September 1979, the Stardust manager “reassured” Dublin Corporation that issues about doors and exit concerns had been rectified.

However, Campbell said the same inspector had been at the Stardust on the same date of the letter and said the issues had not been rectified.

“What value was Mr Butterly’s assurances? Those [assurances] were penned at a time we know a policy was not loosening, it was tightening. It was wrong, yet it was permitted to continue,” said Ms Campbell.

“Those doors did not open, it took the best efforts of those patrons, including kicking and punching, to get those doors open,” said Campbell.

Campbell quoted a witness as saying, “the smoke was so thick you could chew it, and there was an unbearable noise of fire” due to the doors being “locked, chained and obstructed”. This, she said, amounted to a “substantial contribution to the deaths of 48 people who never came home”.

Campbell said the jury had already heard evidence of people “breaking windows with their bare hands to gulp oxygen and a young woman putting her head into a toilet because the windows at the venue did not give any ventilation”.

“You can imagine the suffering and the decades of unresolved trauma,” Campbell told the jury.

“Sunlight really is a powerful disinfectant, and the sunlight that, with the coroner’s judgement and care, has been shed on the evidence of what happened to those 48 young people has gone a long way in removing the stains, the rumours, the lies, the mistakes that have haunted the families of the Stardust victims since before the embers of that fire even went out.”

Campbell said that it was now over to the jury to “write the last chapter” of the Stardust story.

Campbell concluded by saying that the failures she had outlined were causative of the deaths that followed.

“And that being the evidence, the conclusion must be that the 48 victims of the Stardust fire were unlawfully killed,” she said.

Bernard Condon SC, representing families of 10 people who were killed in the tragedy, told the jury that there was a wall behind him at the inquest room “of people; 48 people indeed, who never came home. Why?”

Counsel said the Stardust patrons were “drifting towards death and smoke” and the fire was “a monster coming towards” them. “How quickly that fire moved. Why? Because of the carpet tiles,” counsel said.

“The fire took off at ballistic speed because of the carpet tiles and exit doors didn’t work,” said counsel, who added that staff had “no training about the fire extinguishers”.

“Lack of training is delay, and delay equals death,” he said.

“Life was extinguished by a series of circumstances, and hard-working, decent people went for a night out to the local disco and why did they die?

“What in the name of God was going on that it turned into a prison so much that people couldn’t get out? The staff were never told to throw open the doors – they couldn’t because they were locked. I ask you to look at those contributing factors and fit it into the category of substantial cause of death in the circumstances of unlawful killing,” said Condon.

Senior Counsel Sean Guerin also addressed the jury today, telling them: “The families have waited longer than Moses wandered in the desert but theirs is without justice, and their question is: ‘How did my child, my sister, my brother die?’”

“How did my child die? Why did they never come home?” he added.

“To say they died in a fire only raises the question of what caused the fire and what caused it to spread so quickly that so many were unable to get out alive?” said counsel.

He urged the jury to consider what were the facts and circumstances that led to these deaths. “The condition of the electrical fittings was a substantial cause, the tiles on the walls, the low ceiling height, the absence of training and emergency procedures and the locking of doors are matters for you,” said Guerin.

Coroner Dr Myra Cullinane told the jury that she will begin summarising the evidence heard since April last year and advising the members on the relevant law on Tuesday.

Paul Neilan and Ryan Dunne