Sunday 17 February 2019

Teen commended for bravery as Carrickmines fire tragedy inquest returns verdict of misadventure

Pictured: Some of the victims of the deadly Carrickmines fire
Pictured: Some of the victims of the deadly Carrickmines fire
Breda Heffernan

Breda Heffernan

A jury at the inquest into the deaths of 10 people in the Carrickmines halting site fire tragedy has commended the bravery of teenager John Keith Connors in entering the burning portacabin to rescue his young nephew.

Tom Connors (4) was the only survivor of the blaze.

The jury said John Keith, who was 14-years-old at the time of the tragedy, should be nominated for a national bravery award. This call was met with loud applause throughout Dublin Coroner’s Court.

The inquest heard how the teenager climbed through a broken bedroom window and pulled his nephew out of the smoke-filled cabin where temperatures were estimated to have reached of more than 650C.

The jury this afternoon returned a verdict of death by misadventure for the five adults and five children who perished when a chip pan caught fire as they slept in the early hours of October 10, 2015.

In a joint statement read out on behalf of the Connors, Lynch and Gilbert families after the verdict, they said their lost loved ones are “always missed, always loved and never forgotten”.

They also expressed their “sincere gratitude and thanks to the first responders, gardai, ambulance and fire brigade crews who attended at the scene of the fire”.

The fire claimed the lives of Thomas Connors (27), his wife Sylvia (3), and their children Jim (5), Christy (3) and five-month-old Mary.

Aftermath: Garda forensic teams examine the scene of the fatal blaze. Photo: Collins photos
Aftermath: Garda forensic teams examine the scene of the fatal blaze. Photo: Collins photos

Also killed were Willie Lynch (25), his partner Tara Gilbert (27), and their children Jodie (9) and Kelsey (4). At the time of her death, Tara was four months pregnant with a baby boy.

The final victim of the blaze was Jimmy Lynch (39), a brother of Sylvia and Willie.

The jury also made a number of recommendations, including that the exercise of a local authority’s emergency powers to establish Traveller accommodation “shall be for the shortest period practicable”.

The inquest had previously heard that the halting site off the Glenamuck Road in Carrickmines, south Dublin, was a “temporary” site, despite members of the Connors family living there since 2008.

It was exempt from planning and fire safety guidelines due to its “emergency” status.

The jury also recommended that all halting sites should have a nominated “safety champion” who lives on the site and that fire safety guidelines, introduced in the wake of the Carrickmines tragedy, should be drawn to the attention of all local authorities around the country.

In her charge to the jury, Coroner Dr Myra Cullinane told them they could return a verdict of accidental death or misadventure in relation to nine of the victims.

The same verdicts were also offered in the case of baby Mary. However the jury was told it could also consider a narrative verdict setting out the circumstances of her death.

Baby Mary was rescued by her uncle, Jim Connors Jr, from the burning portacabin and was placed on a bed in a nearby cabin which also went on fire after the initial blaze spread. She was rescued for a second time by fire fighters.

Dr Cullinane said an accidental death is one the occurs “out of the blue”.

In the case of misadventure, she described it as an “accident with a risk”.

She referred to the chip pan, which caused the fatal fire, being found on a cooker hot plate and that the switch for the hot plate was in the “on” position.

She also referred to evidence from State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster about the effects of intoxication. All of the adults had being drinking on the night of the fire and Dr Bolster had said that this would have “certainly delayed reaction times”.

After almost three hours of deliberations, the jury returned with verdicts of misadventure for each of the deceased.

As the six-day inquest concluded, Dr Cullinane offered her condolences to the three families said 10 lives were lost as well as that of an unborn baby in a brief number of minutes.

“We’ve heard harrowing evidence of the impact of this tragedy. Family members conducted themselves with great dignity in giving their evidence which cannot have been easy, to bring back to mind so vividly these events,” she added.

In a statement released after the the inquest, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council said it acknowledged the jury’s verdicts and said its thoughts were with the families at this “very sad and very difficult time”.

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