Tuesday 18 June 2019

Jail term sought for director of Leuven Irish college after fire deaths

Dace Zarina and Sara Gibadlo died in a fire in their accommodation in Leuven
Dace Zarina and Sara Gibadlo died in a fire in their accommodation in Leuven

Zainab Boladale

Belgian prosecutors are seeking a jail term for the director of the Irish College in Leuven in relation to a fire which killed two Irish students in 2014.

Director of the Leuven Institute for Ireland in Europe, Malachy Vallely has been accused of using his apartment as a "cash cow" for 23 years by renting it back to the college.

Following the request for a one year jail term, the prosecutor has said that he "should have been an ambassador for his country" but instead acted as an anti-social "slum landlord".

They also told the court that the fire safety in the apartment was “completely lacking”.

The Leuven court was told that there was no smoke alarm in the bedroom in which the two students died, nor was there a smoke alarm in the room of another student whose cigarette must have started the fire. One fire extinguisher in the building was empty and the other one was 10 years old.

Both Mr Vallely and the Irish college were accused of neglect.  Mr Vallely’s lawyer outlined in court that Mr Vallely's apartment would have registered with the local municipality and over the years it had 200 police visits. During these visits it was never suggested that the was a failing in fire regulations.

Lawyers for Mr Vallely and the Irish College denied the accusations and said that they can’t bear responsibility for the deaths.

They suggested the two students may have died due to the alcohol consumption since they did not respond as quickly to the alarm when it was raised by another student on the same floor.

The two women shared a room on the top floor of the building, when the fire broke, an Irish student in a neighbouring room alerted the two women, the court heard.

Dace Zarina and Sara Gibadlo were later found dead in the adjoining bathroom with high levels of carbon monoxide poisoning and their death was caused by the heat.

The court heard that the Velux window in the students' bedroom was too high for them to escape through.

At the start of the hearing, 22-year-old student Shane Bracken, who is charged with involuntary death due to a lack of due caution, said he had gone to bed after a night out.

He told police at the time that he had smoked in his room.

He later said he could not recall if he had smoked on that night.

Lawyers for the Gibadlo family said there was no other explanation as to the cause of the blaze that the fact that it had been started by Mr Bracken's cigarette.

The court adjourned until 5 September, when a verdict will be delivered.

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