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The 48 victims of the Stardust fire.

Stardust: Inquest hears of survivor's 'life changing' injuries from the fire

Jimmy Fitzpatrick spent more than three and a half months in hospital with third degree burns to his body.

A STARTDUST SURVIVOR, who sustained “life-changing” burns in the fatal fire, has described how his friend told him while they were both in intensive care: “We made it this far, we’re going to get out of this”.

Jimmy Fitzpatrick spent more than three and a half months in hospital with third degree burns to his body.

Today, he became emotional as he relayed to the Jury at Dublin District Coroner’s Court how his friend Liam Dunne, 18, reassured him they would be okay. Liam Dunne subsequently died from his injuries,

“I couldn’t speak back, I had a respirator, but Liam looked over the partition…got up on the bed…and said to me: ‘Jimmy, we made it this far, we’ll get out and we’ll have a couple of pints”,” said Mr Fitzpatrick.

He said Liam Dunne had told him his hands were “completely burned”.

“He didn’t say anything else that I can recall, only that: “We made it this far, we’re going to get out of this.”

The inquest heard Liam Dunne was one of four people who escaped the fire but subsequently died in hospital.

Mr Fitzpatrick, who was 16 at the time, was part of a group of Superquinn workers who attended the Stardust on the night of the fatal blaze, which claimed the lives of 48 young people on 14 February 1981.

He told the inquest that he lost a number of friends in the fire, including Liam Dunne, George O’Connor (17), David Morton (19), Martina Keegan (16), Michael Griffiths (17) and Richard Bennett (17).

Mr Fitzpatrick remained in hospital until 29 May 1981, having sustained what were described today in court by counsel as “catastrophic” and “life-changing” third degree burns to his arms, back, neck, shoulders and face.

Mr Fitzpatrick told the inquest he was on the dancefloor with friends when the DJ said there was a small fire and not to panic. He said he looked over and could see “a flicker” behind the partition.

He told Gemma McLoughlin-Burke BL, a member of the coroner’s legal team, that he saw a bouncer carrying a fire extinguisher and said when the man raised the shutter the fire “shot up” to the ceiling.

“It was like the air got hold of it and the whole thing just went up like an inferno, it went in seconds,” he said.

Mr Fitzpatrick said he made his way towards the main door, exit two, but on his way out he saw two girls he knew standing by the cigarette machine screaming but “going nowhere”.

He said he made his way to the passageway near the front door but decided to turn back to get the girls.

As he made his way back, he could see “droplets of fire” falling everywhere, he said.

Asked to describe the droplets, he said it was like it was “raining fire” with “balls of flame” that were about 3mm wide.

He grabbed the girls and “threw” them towards the exit, and they fell into the hallway as “mayhem” broke out.

Mr Fitzpatrick said he went to follow the girls, but as he was running, he tripped over a handbag and fell on the floor.

He said at this point, the lights went out. He tried to get up but the crowd rushing towards him and towards the door kept knocking him down.

“I was being trampled so I crawled as fast as I could away and I was on a carpet at that stage but then I hit wood and I thought I’m going the wrong way, I’m on the dancefloor. You could see nothing,” he said.

“You could chew the smoke, it was that thick.”

Mr Fitzpatrick said he didn’t know where he was and felt his back getting burned and was finding it hard to breath.

He said he stood up and made his way to where he could hear people screaming and kicking a door, which eventually burst open.

The witness said when he got outside, he was “completely black, head to toe” and a young man he did not know walked him to the front of the building and put him in an ambulance.

He told Des Fahy KC, representing a number of families of the deceased, that he had seen chains on all the exit doors in the Stardust on each of three or four occasions when he had been there previously.

Asked by counsel if he had seen anyone in charge on the night of the fire, he said: “No. Mayhem was in charge…nothing was under control.”

Mr Fitzpatrick said as he attempted to escape, he could also feel “debris” falling on him and he believed this was parts of the ceiling coming down.

He said it was between two and two and a half minutes between seeing the bouncer lift up the shutter and him escaping the building.

“Everything happened in the blink of an eye…It’s a heartbeat of time.”

He told Dáithi Mac Cárthaigh BL, representing the family of Marie Kennedy who died in the blaze: “To all intents and purposes we were trapped in an inferno…You’re fighting for survival.”

Evidence was also heard today from Jimmy Tarpey who told Ms McLoughlin-Burke that he had seen the doors at exit five chained and locked three weeks before the fire while attending a Specials Concert.

He said he suffered from claustrophobia and the venue was packed on the night so he made his way to the exit but could see there was a chain looped around both of the doors and a large padlock at the bottom.

He said he went to a doorman and told him: “If there was a fire here tonight how would anyone get out?”

The doorman told him to “f off and mind my own business”, he said.

Mr Tarpey said on the night of the fire, he and a friend were running towards exit five. He said having seen the door locked three weeks previously, he thought: “I’m going to die tonight”.

“When we got there, I don’t know how or what happened, but the door burst open.”

He said there were bottles stacked up against the wall and as a crowd of people pushed their way out the bottle fell and smashed.

“I remember looking back in and I said, “oh my God”, the flames, they’re touching the sky. I just could not believe how quickly the place went up.”

Peter O’Shaughnessy, 17 at the time, gave evidence to Ms McLoughlin-Burke that after the fire was noticed, he saw a girl fall to the floor and people running over her.

He said he went to help the girl but as he did so he was knocked to the ground.

Mr O’Shaughnessy said the lights went out, it was pitch black and he “cursed” himself for not getting out straight away.

He said as he got up and made his way towards the exit “it was almost like a ball of flames burst in front of me”.

He said from the light of that flame, he saw the door of the toilets and pushed the girl in.

He said another girl followed them in and he held down the push down taps and splashed water on their faces.

The witness said he put his hand on the window, and he could feel the condensation and thought it was glass.

“I punched it, but it was a sheet of steel,” he said.

Mr O’Shaughnessy said the group huddled in the corner breathing through their clothes and he could hear people outside shouting in telling them they were trying get them out.

He said he kept on banging on the steel, and he wasn’t sure if it was five or 15 minutes before a fireman came and rescued them.

Ciaran Graydon, who was 18 at the time, described droplets like “hot tar” falling from the ceiling as the fire took hold.

He said the girl he was with wanted to go back and get her coat and bag but he pulled her towards the door and brought her outside.

“We actually fell out because of the pressure being put on the doors,” he explained.

He said he then went back in and pulled out two other people.

Patrick Maxwell gave evidence to Ms McLoughlin-Burke that when he first saw the smoke he thought it was “special effects”.

He said he tried to make his way out the main door but the heat was too strong and when he spotted a barman at the dispense bar he jumped across the bar and the worker pointed him towards an exit behind this bar, exit 1A.

He didn’t see anyone else being directed out of the building this way, he told counsel.

He said as soon as he came out, an upstairs fire exit located directly above him “burst open” and he could see some people whose clothes were “melted onto them”.

Antoinette Daly, 16 at the time, told Ms McLoughlin Burke that she spotted a small fire and reported it to one of the bouncers.

She said he told her he would check it out, but she noticed a few minutes later that no one had gone to it.

Ms Daly told how the fire took hold very quickly. “It just seemed to ignite and everything went wrong,” she said.

She said people were on the ground and they could feel debris dropping on them.

The witness said she remembered somebody in front of them saying the doors were locked and thought “this is it, I’m going to die”.

She said she thought of her parents and family before she passed out and the next thing she remembered was someone carrying her outside.

Ms Daly said she found it difficult to discuss what happened that night and had “buried” it for a long time.

“I don’t like talking about it,” she said. “It’s had a huge effect.”

“Looking now at what’s going on here with people needing closure to find out what happened to their family, I just felt it was my turn to come and talk and tell what I remember,” she said.

“I loved the Stardust. We were regular goers, but the doors were always chained,” she added.

The inquest will resume next Tuesday when Ms Daly will continue giving evidence.