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The 48 victims of the Stardust fire. Sasko Lazarov/

Stardust patron tells inquest of using his hands and arms to try put flames out

The inquest continues next Tuesday in the Pillar Room of the Rotunda Hospital.

A BARRISTER HAS hailed the bravery of a survivor of the Stardust who told an inquest jury of his attempts to use his hands to put out the flames of burning people as they escaped the fire.

Another witness told the inquest that he was 17 at the time and was asked for ID on his way into the nightclub by Stardust manager Eamon Butterly, whom he alleged was “drunk” and “slurring his words”.

The first witness Mark Swaine, who was 18 on the night the blaze swept through the Stardust in the early hours of 14 February 1981, today told the jury in the Dublin District Coroner’s Court that once he got outside, he tried to break windows because there were people inside and he could see their hands pressed up against the windows.

In his original statement, read into the record by the court registrar, Swaine said that when he got to exit three on the night, he heard someone shouting: “Get that chain off the door, for fuck’s sake.”

He said shortly after, the door burst open. He said that there was a van parked outside the exit with (a gap of) two feet on either side to get out.

“I was squashed against the van, and I pushed my girlfriend off the wall, which is a couple of feet off the ground,” he said.

He said he tried to break some windows but was unable to.

“I saw some girls’ hands at the windows pressing against them,” he said.

In response to questioning by Mark Tottenham BL, a member of the coroner’s legal team, Swaine said that he and others tried to break the windows because there were people inside.

“We were trying to break the windows because there were people inside trying to get out, we could see their hands coming up to the windows,” he said.

“There were a lot of people coming out on fire and I was trying to put them out. There were a lot of people coming out on fire and a lot of burning people and a lot of crying and screaming,” said Swaine.

Swaine confirmed to Des Fahy KC, representing a number of families, that he was “absolutely” clear that his understanding was that there was a chain on the door stopping people getting out.

Swaine said that at the main door, there were a lot of people coming out on fire and there were people on the grass area smouldering.

“I was trying to put the flames out, trying to settle people,” he said, going on to explain that he used his hands and arms to try to put out the flames.

Fahy said this was a very brave thing to do, to which Swaine replied: “At the time, it was just normal.”

Swaine also said that no one came out through the windows, as there were wrought iron bars on them.

Other evidence

Witness Henry Byrne also gave evidence of seeing a van parked outside exit three on the night.

In his original statement, Byrne said he saw a white van outside exit three parked with its back to the door, and the crowd had to squeeze their way through the van and the open doors.

“It was obstructing the people coming out. I got in the driver’s door window. I released the handbrake and then jumped out. Then another bloke jumped into the van and steered it, and people pushed it up onto a green embankment,” he said.

Further evidence regarding the van parked by the exit door was given by Paul Powell.

In his original statement, Powell said that there was a van backed up to the steps outside the exit, and he had to jump over a railing to get past the van. He said he then ran round to the main door, where people were rushing out.

“I pulled out a girl who was falling and screaming,” he said.

Powell also gave evidence that earlier that night, he saw a doorman shake the bar of an exit door.

“It appeared to me that he was checking to see that the door was locked,” he said, adding that he did not see any chain on the door.

He told a member of the coroner’s legal team, Gemma McLoughlin-Burke BL, that he was 17 at the time and was asked for ID on his way in by Stardust manager Eamon Butterly.

He went on to tell the jury: “He was drunk. He was slurring his words.”

The jury also heard evidence from Christine Fullam, who, in her original statement, said that after the fire started, she and her friend headed for exit three, where she saw “a brass padlock on the door”.

“I don’t remember how it was attached to the door. I tried to open the lock, but I could not. I tried to open it for what seemed two or three minutes,” she said.

Fullam said that three men then ran at the door kicking it with their feet, and on their third attempt it burst open fully.

Fullam told Sean Guerin SC, representing a number of the families of the deceased, that she remembered holding the lock in her hand.

“The chain was wrapped around the handles, and I had the lock in my hand,” she said, adding: “It was definitely locked.”

The jury also heard evidence from Edward Ormond.

In his original statement, Ormond said he saw a fireman put a rope onto steel plates that were welded onto the toilet windows.

“The fireman hooked this rope onto the fire engine and tried to pull the steel plate down but was unable to do so,” he said, adding that there were also people standing up on the window ledge trying to kick this steel plate in, but they were not able to do so.

Ormond also said that about a year before this, he and a friend tried to get into the nightclub without paying by pulling an exit door. He said his friend put his hand in under the door but could not open it, as he said there was a chain on the door.

He told McLoughlin-Burke: “We got to a door, and I wedged the door open, and (his friend) was able to get his hand in and I had a bit of leverage on the bottom of the door. He was able to put his hand up and it hit the bars. The door couldn’t open because it was chained.”

He confirmed that there were people in the nightclub at the time.

The inquest continues next Tuesday in the Pillar Room of the Rotunda Hospital.