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Wicklow Council fined €355k over Bray firemen deaths

The local authority pleaded guilty to three charges related to the deaths of Mark O’Shaughnessy and Brian Murray who died fighting a blaze in Bray in 2007. The maximum possible fine was €3 million.

Scenes from the Bray firemen's funeral that took place in Bray in 2007.
Scenes from the Bray firemen's funeral that took place in Bray in 2007.
Image: Leon Farrell/Photocall

Updated 22.00

WICKLOW COUNTY COUNCIL has been fined €355,000 today in connection with the death of two firemen in Bray in 2007.

Judge Des Hogan said that it appeared to him that the system used by Wicklow County Council was flawed.

Judge Hogan order the council to pay additional costs of €95,793.32. The maximum possible fine could have been up to €3 million.

Disbelief in court

The reaction in the court was one of disbelieve, said a source. Once the fine had been read out in court, the families of the deceased got up and left the court, with a source stating that they were not happy “at all” with the fine.

Earlier this year, the local authority pleaded guilty to three out of four charges related to the death of 25-year-old Mark O’Shaughnessy and 46-year-old Brian Murray, who died when the roof of a disused building collapsed on them as they fought a blaze in a disused building in Bray.

In a statement, Wicklow County Council said that they “accepted that there were breaches in a number of systems of work in the operation of its Fire Services between 2005 and 2007″.

They state that the “amended indictment importantly acknowledged that the deaths of Sub-Officer Brian Murray and Firefighter Mark O’Shaughnessy while fighting a fire in Bray in September 2007 were not as a consequence of the breaches of the Act of 2005″. They added:

The Council understands and is sensitive to the distress caused during the course of the hearing. However, the immediate acceptance of the amended indictment facilitated the trial being brought to a close at the earliest possible date.

Wicklow County Council again extends its deepest sympathy to the families of the deceased men – two dedicated and brave firefighters who tragically lost their lives in the incident.

The Council has since addressed all of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work issues raised by the case.

Irish Fire and Emergency Services Association

Following the conviction and sentencing of Wicklow County Council  today, the National  Chairman of the Irish Fire and Emergency Services Association (IFESA), John Kidd said the IFESA welcomed the outcome of the trial and hoped it would bring some relief to the family and friends of the two men seven years after the tragedy.

The council faced three charges under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 and were brought against them by the Health and Safety Authority. The charges related to the local autohorities failure to ensure the safety of the firefighters which resulted in injury to them, the safety of the equipment they used, a lack of proper risk assessment and a lack of training.

Before pleading guilty to the charges, the council had pleaded not guilty but later changed their plea.

Mr Kidd said the attitude of  Wicklow County Council since the tragedy and up until it pleaded guilty to criminal health and safety violations, was “deeply disturbing and had added enormously to the trauma and grief of the deceased firefighters families’, friends and colleagues”.

‘Shameful’

“While IFESA has the highest praise for the actions of the gardaí and Health and Safety Authority in trying to get to the causes of this tragedy, the behaviour of  Wicklow County Council and senior officials there, has been  nothing less than shameful,” he said, adding:

From day one there has been a concerted policy by the council to deny all liability for the deaths of Brian and Mark until the harrowing evidence emerging at the trial left the council with no option but to admit a guilty plea.

The attitude of the council to these two men, who laid down their lives in public duty, has been chilling and there are serious questions to be asked about the strategy followed by the council and who authorised it.

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When the case was first raised, there was much unease amongst Wicklow councillors and council management who feared that people could be charged as individuals in the case.

However, it was decided that the Wicklow County Council would be charged as a corporate body.

Council’s finances

There was speculation that the council could face a maximum fine of €3 million, which was cause for concern due to the council’s finances. For the end of 2012, figures shows that the council’s long term capital debt amounted to €117.5 million. There closing debit balance on their operating account, which covers everyday expenses, stands at €1, 995, 147.

Mr Kidd said IFESA was calling on the Health and Safety Authority to conduct a special report into the fire service nationally as provided for under  mechanisms under the , Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005.

Originally published at 15.30pm

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