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

Stardust management failed to comply with 16 by-laws, inquest told

The inquest into the fire that killed 48 people in the early hours of Valentine’s Day in 1981 continued today.

MANAGEMENT AT STARDUST only complied with ten of 26 by-laws set down as terms of the nightclub’s planning permission, an inquest jury has heard, with a lack of fire drills, lack of staff training, and the locking and obstructing of exits all showing non-compliance.

Martin Davidson, who is managing director of Jensen Hughes, which specialises in fire engineering safety and forensic services, gave evidence in the Dublin District Coroner’s Court today at the inquest into the fire that killed 48 people in the early hours of Valentine’s Day, 1981.

Davidson, who also has 29 years’ experience as a fire engineer, told the jury that there were 26 by-laws the Stardust management had to adhere to, but only ten of these were complied with.

He said that no revised drawings were submitted to Dublin Corporation showing the use of carpet tiles on the walls of the building instead of plastered walls.

Temporary barriers

Davidson said that doors on the premises were fitted with metal shutters, which were fully down and locked, and even though the use of temporary barriers apart from rope barriers was not permitted, tables were placed in the entrance foyer and a temporary screen used, which reduced the exit width.

Another by-law was that there was to be no fastening apart from automatic bolts on exit doors, but he said that chains and padlocks were used to lock exit doors while occupants were in the building.

Davidson said that exit doors, if fastened when the public were on the premises, were to be secured by automatic fastenings which operate when the cross bars are pressed.

Previously, Stardust manager Eamon Butterly confirmed that exits one, five and six were locked until between 11.30pm and midnight.

Another stipulation was that a keyboard was needed for these chains and padlocks, but Davidson said that no keyboard was provided.

Another by-law related to the need for a sufficient number of employees to have specific duties allotted to them in the event of a fire.

However, Davidson said that Butterly had confirmed that he had never conducted a fire drill for his staff, nor was he aware of any procedures to be followed in the event of a fire, and he did not seek advice on what procedures were to be followed.


There was a by-law stating that overcrowding was not permitted, but Davidson said that during a concert in the Stardust on 15 January 1981, Dublin Corporation inspector Martin Donoghue noted that the number of occupants was excessive.

It was also a condition that all parts of the premises and apparatus were to be maintained at all times in good order, but Davidson said that while there were fire extinguishers on the premises that were serviced annually, there was no maintenance programme for any other fire safety measures in the building.

Concerning a by-law relating to alterations to the structure, Davidson said there was no request to use carpet tiles on the walls, and plans submitted as part of the application process showed there was Tyrolean plaster on the walls. He also said there were steel bars and plates fitted to the toilet windows.

There was a by-law that special care had to be taken to ensure the means of escape were at all times unobstructed and immediately available, but Davidson said that management procedures changed so that exits one, five and six were only unlocked between 11.30pm and midnight.

‘Any route is fair game’

He said that metal shutters were fixed to the doors at the entrance, and there were bars and steel plates on the toilet windows.

Davidson said that while these windows would not have been intended as a means of escape, in a situation where there is a rapidly growing fire “then any route that you can get out of the building is fair game”.

He went on to say that even if the windows could not be used as a means of escape, they could have been broken to vent the smoke.

There was a by-law condition that all passageways were to be kept free of obstruction, but Davidson said that there was a skip of bottles near exit five and a van parked outside exit three, and both of these obstructed the escape route from these exits.

“In summary, what is shown is that of the 26 by-laws applicable to the Stardust, 16 of these were not complied with.

“These ranged from changing of the design without approval, lack of fire drills, lack of staff training, lack of fire safety maintenance, and the locking and obstructing of emergency exits,” said Davidson.

The jury also heard evidence from Mark Ross, a forensic investigator and former member of the London Fire Brigade, who was asked to carry out a review of the response to the fire by the emergency services, to see if some of the deceased might have been saved by different actions being taken on the night.

Ross said that firefighters arrived on the scene at 1.51am, and there were a total of 34 firefighters with 12 breathing apparatus sets and 28 spare cylinders of oxygen.

The scene on arrival would have been chaotic, I think it’s probably a good word to describe it.

“The sheer mass of members of the public, some of them injured and some of whom had been drinking, and the trauma they had faced they would definitely have been in a state of panic and desperate for help,” said Ross, adding that the fire service can be impeded by crowds of people and would have relied on the gardaí for crowd control.

He said there were reports of fire crews having to physically restrain people from getting back into the premises to rescue people.

“The flames had already breached the roof, flames and smoke were visible, so they knew they had something major,” said Ross, going on to say that he thought the fire “was probably at or past its peak when fire crews arrived”.

‘Something like Grenfell’

He said that on arrival, the main objective was to get “firefighting jets in place” and get the firefighters rigged out in breathing apparatus to enter the premises. He described these as “sound tactics” and said he did not think he would have done anything differently had he been there.

“They did the best they could with those initial resources, but it was clearly a challenging situation, and that’s an underestimate really of what they faced,” he said.

“They were faced with a chaotic scene of hundreds of distressed members of the public, some trying to re-enter the building, some injured, probably most panicking.

“A scene that would be unprecedented for all who attended, they probably had never seen anything like this in their career,” he said, going on to liken it to “something like Grenfell”, referring to the Grenfell Tower fire.

Ross said that there was clearly some form of command of control in place, be it at a basic level. He said he thought the firefighters acted swiftly and the rescues were carried out as quickly as possible.

Concerning the question of whether some of the deceased could have been saved by different actions, Ross said:

“I don’t think that anything done before or during that incident would have changed the outcome. I cannot be certain about that, but I think it is highly unlikely.”

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