Sunday 22 September 2019

Anatomy of a fire: €3m claim, a burnt-down pub and the CCTV that led to a nine-year legal battle

  • Owner of pub says a lot of what was reported about fire was 'inaccurate'
  • Insurance company obtained CCTV footage which showed owner on premises before fire started
  • 21 days into court case, owner withdrew €3 million claim against Aviva
  • Local says 'we'd never seen anything like that fire'
Waterfront Bar and Restaurant being demolished after the blaze ripped through the building Photo: Inishowen News
Waterfront Bar and Restaurant being demolished after the blaze ripped through the building Photo: Inishowen News
Amy Molloy

Amy Molloy

The blaze was described by firefighters as one of the worst in Donegal’s history.

Nine years ago, in the early hours of the morning, a popular seaside bar in Moville went up in flames resulting in the loss of more than 40 jobs.

Fast forward to 2018, and the owner of Waterfront Bar and Restaurant has withdrawn his claim against Aviva Insurance over its failure to pay out €3 million following the fire.

Miraculously, nobody was injured in the incident which happened on February 1, 2009.

Waterfront Bar and Restaurant after the blaze Photo: Inishowen News
Waterfront Bar and Restaurant after the blaze Photo: Inishowen News

A local who witnessed the events told how the flames engulfed the whole street, and they feared other businesses and homes in the area would be burned to the ground.

“We’d never seen anything like it,” he said.

The devastation caused by the fire resulted in a nine-year legal battle that finally came to an abrupt end this month.

Publican Seamus McLaughlin, who now runs a car hire business in Inishowen, is facing estimated legal costs of more than €1 million.

Aviva Insurance Europe plc refused to compensate Mr McLaughlin as it claimed he was involved in setting fire to the pub in an attempt to obtain benefit under the policy.

The insurance company's case centred on CCTV footage recovered from the day of the fire.

Footage recorded, presented in court, showed Mr McLaughlin and his brother entering the premises at 3.07am in the morning, and shortly after they left, the fire started.

A Garda file was sent to the DPP in May 2010 following an investigation into the fire and the DPP later directed there should be no prosecution.

Speaking to, Mr McLaughlin said "a lot of what’s been printed so far isn’t an accurate version of what went on."

"What's reported doesn't do it justice, this case went on for nine years. Only bits and pieces have been printed."

Why did he withdraw the claim at such a late stage?

"The case was withdrawn on the advice of my legal team," he replied.

When asked what has been inaccurately reported, Mr McLaughlin said he could not comment on that at this time.

In his evidence in court, the Donegal man said he and his brother went to the pub on the morning of the fire to check for a leak and then went home.

At about 4.30am, he got a call from a taxi driver he knew telling him to get up to the bar because the fire brigade was there.

Derry fire service district commander, Willie Lynch, told Inishowen News at the time that it was the worst fire he had seen in his 37-year career.

"It was one of the worst because it happened in the middle of the town and we had to fight to stop it spreading to other buildings," he said.

"It was also more dangerous because the building was a restaurant and we had to send men in to pull gas cylinders out of the fire for fear they would explode."

On day 21 of the case, when Mr McLaughlin was due to continue his evidence, his counsel Jonathan Kilfeather SC said the case was being withdrawn and Mr McLaughlin was ordered to pay Aviva’s legal costs.

While the court case only lasted three weeks, it took years of adjournments and legal argument to get to that point.

Mr McLaughlin previously went through the courts in a bid to get access to the security footage taken from the burnt-out premises - and he was initially successful in his attempts. 

The High Court ordered in 2010 that the CCTV material and forensic reports relating to the premises be handed over to the pub owner.

The then Garda Commissioner claimed privilege over the materials due to the ongoing investigation into the fire.

But the High Court found that the CCTV material and reports did not attract the public interest or privilege claimed by the commissioner.

However, the Supreme Court later overturned this decision in 2011 and Aviva continued to defend the claim.

The legal battle may have concluded for now, but the devastation caused has left a long-lasting impact on the community.

"It was a very popular place and a lot of people worked there, and enjoyed drinking there, so it did hit the area hard," said one local, who wishes to remain anonymous.

"'Tis a shame, but these things happen."

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