Saturday 20 January 2018

Buncrana pier tragedy inquest to be held in front of jury

Sean McGrotty (49), his sons Evan (8) and Mark (12); the boy's grandmother Ruth Daniels (57) and her daughter Jodie Lee Daniels (14) all lost their lives

Victims of the Buncrana pier tragedy; Sean McGrotty (49), the couple's sons Evan (8) and Mark (12), Jodie Lee Daniels (14) and Ruth Daniels (57). Baby Rioghnach survived the tragedy. Louise James (top right) was the only member of the family who did not travel with them from their Derry home.
Victims of the Buncrana pier tragedy; Sean McGrotty (49), the couple's sons Evan (8) and Mark (12), Jodie Lee Daniels (14) and Ruth Daniels (57). Baby Rioghnach survived the tragedy. Louise James (top right) was the only member of the family who did not travel with them from their Derry home.

Andrew Phelan

A DATE has been set for inquests into the drowning of five members of one family in the Buncrana pier tragedy.

A preliminary hearing into the deaths was told this afternoon the formal inquests would be held before a jury over two days in November.

Proceedings in the Co Donegal town got underway today to make arrangements for the inquest.

Sean McGrotty (49), his sons Evan (8) and Mark (12); the boy's grandmother Ruth Daniels (57) and her daughter Jodie Lee Tracey (14) all lost their lives when their jeep rolled into the waters of Lough Swilly.

Local man Davitt Walsh was hailed a hero after he swam out to the sinking jeep and rescued a baby girl in the March 2016 tragedy.

Sean McGrotty handed out his baby daughter Rioghnach-Ann to Davitt who took her to safety.

Today, members of the McGrotty family, who are from Derry, were present at the sitting of Donegal County Coroner's Court in the Inishowen Gateway Hotel in Buncrana, where the hearing took place.

Donegal Coroner Dr Denis McCauley said it was a “terrible tragedy” and that the inquest would seek to give guidance to people as to what to do when a car goes into the water.

He set November 22 and 23 as the inquest dates and adjourned proceedings, for mention on September 27.

Dr McCauley said the inquest would firstly examine the events of the night. The scope would include include an examination of piers and slipways in Donegal generally.

He said although it was unusual in Donegal, the inquests should be held before a jury. Although 69 draft depositions had been taken, he said these had been distilled down into 12 statements which would form part of the inquests.

The witnesses would include a representative of Donegal County Council to give evidence about any risk assessments done prior to the tragedy.

Solicitor Michael Staines, for the council, said a consultant’s report would be available before the inquests.

Dr McCauley said it would be quite important if there had been any change in risk assessment since the tragedy. He had contacted the Irish Water Safety Authority and The Road Safety for any advice they could give in relation to cars and water.

Audi Ireland had also been contacted but had not responded yet.

Dr McCauley said documents to be disclosed would include depositions post mortem reports.

There was no video evidence of the event, but Garda Inspector David Murphy said scene of crime unit officers had taken photographs and these would be available.

Dr McCauley said the first inquest to be held would be that of Sean McGrotty as he had been driving the vehicle. Inquests for the four remaining people would then take place in shortened versions, he said.

The jury would be asked to return verdicts at the end of each.

“Donegal County Council will co-operate completely and thoroughly,” Mr Staines said.

Also present was Eoin Armstrong, a solicitor for the vehicle’s insurers.

Dr McCauley advised that any pre-inquest disclosure was confidential and should not be disclosed to anyone.

The tragedy happened at 7.15pm on March 20 last year. Sean, his sons Mark and Evan, their grandmother Ruth and her daughter Josie Lee were enjoying a day out in Buncrana when their jeep suddenly slid into water from the pier.

Davitt plunged into the lake waters to help and Sean held up baby Rioghnagh-Ann, through the jeep window. Davitt managed to grab the child before the Audi slipped beneath the water and made the exhausting swim back to the pier with her.

Sean’s partner Louise James was on a rare trip away in LIverpool when she lost her partner, sons, mother and sister

In March this year, the family held a memorial mass and walk to mark the first anniversary.

At the time, a statement was released by Fr Michael Canny on behalf of the family. "Louise, The Daniels and The McGrotty family are deeply grateful for the prayers and support over the last year.

"As the anniversary of the terrible tragedy approaches they would welcome space for privacy at this time," the statement read.

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