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Image from the Stardust memorial, remembering the 48 people who died Leah Farrell/

After one year and 373 witnesses, jurors at Stardust inquest begin deliberations

A verdict may only be returned when all the jury are in agreement, the coroner has said.

JURORS AT THE Stardust inquests began their deliberations today after a hearing lasting almost a year with testimony from more than 370 witnesses.

The Dublin District Coroner’s Court jury will return to the Pillar Room at the Rotunda Hospital tomorrow to continue considering their verdicts. 

A total of 48 young people lost their lives in a fire at the Stardust Ballroom in the early hours of Valentines Day 1981. 

The inquest, which began in April last year, has heard 95 days of direct evidence from 373 witnesses.

The jury returned to court briefly this afternoon to ask Coroner Dr Myra Cullinane for clarification on some issues, including the standard of proof to be applied for each of the verdicts available.

The panel also asked the coroner to give further examples of each of the verdicts they have been asked to consider.

In her legal guidance to the jury last week, Coroner Dr Myra Cullinane told the jurors that the verdicts they can return are:

  • accidental death;
  • death by misadventure;
  • an open verdict;
  • a narrative verdict; 
  • and unlawful killing.

The coroner told the jury that the standard of proof to be applied for verdicts of accidental death, death by misadventure and a narrative verdict was “on the balance of probabilities, more likely than not”.

She said some commentators might put a percentage on it of 51% versus 49%.

In relation to unlawful killing, she said the standard of proof to be applied for a finding of this verdict was different to the others. She said the legal test the jury must apply was the “beyond a reasonable doubt” test before they can record a verdict of unlawful killing.

The coroner again outlined examples of the verdicts available to the jury.

She cited a mountaineer who loses their footing climbing a mountain, falls and suffers fatal injuries as an example where a jury might bring in a verdict of accidental death.

She said a misadventure verdict could be defined as an accident with a risk or risks, giving two examples of how a person could fall downstairs after losing their footing.

Dr Cullinane said a narrative verdict was a mutual summary of the facts as established arising out of the evidence heard.

“I set out for you the test that you must apply in these inquests before you can consider returning the verdict of unlawful killing,” she told the jury.

She said that test was that there had been a “failure by a person or persons to a very high degree to observe such a course of action as experience shows to be necessary if substantial injury to others is to be avoided” and that “such failure or failures was or were a substantial cause of the deaths”.

In her charge to the jury last week, Dr Cullinane said an open verdict could be returned if the jury felt the facts established do not fully explain the manner in which the deaths occurred.

She said no verdict can apportion blame to any person for the deaths of the 48 people who perished in the fire.

“There are no sides at an inquest. An inquest is not a trial as a verdict or a finding against any person, it is a fact finding exercise,” she said.

Dr Cullinane reminded the jury that proceedings in an inquest are inquisitorial and designed to establish certain facts and return verdicts based on the evidence heard.

Referring to the Coroners Act of 1962, Dr Cullinane said that the purpose of an inquest is to establish the identity of the deceased person and how, where and when their death occurred.

In addition to the findings on identity, date and place of death and the circumstances surrounding the death, the jury must record a verdict in relation to each of the 48 people who lost their lives when fire consumed the Stardust nightclub in the early hours of Valentine’s Day 1981.

She said that a verdict may only be returned when all the jury are in agreement.

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