Sunday 17 December 2017

'They believed it was an exciting new chapter' - Families' tribute to students killed in fire as two Irishmen found guilty

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

Kathy Armstrong

The landlord of a house where two Irish students died in a fire has been found guilty.

Malachy Vallely, director of the Leuven institute for Ireland in Europe and owner of the student accommodation where Dace Zarina (22) and Sara Gibaldo (19) died in 2014 was found guilty this morning.

RTE News reports that the Institute was fined €60,000 and Mr Vallely has been ordered to pay €6,000 by a Belgian court, he has also been given a one year suspended sentence.

It was heard that another student who lived in the house, Shane Bracken, accidentally started the fire when he fell asleep after lighting a cigarette following a night out.

He has been found guilty of causing involuntary death and received a three-month suspended sentence and has been fined €600.

Read More: Owner of fatal blaze apartment that killed two Irish students branded 'slum landlord' in court

22-year-old Dace Zarina from Co Longford
22-year-old Dace Zarina from Co Longford

Ms Zarina, who was from Longford, and Ms Gibaldo, from Galway, were both second-year students at Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology and were doing a work placement at the Leuven Institute.

Ms Zarina and Ms Gibaldo died when a blaze ripped through the student house they were living in Leuven city on January 31 2014.

Their remains were found huddled together and the court heard that their second-floor bedroom window was too high to escape safely from.
Eight other students - including six Irish people - managed to escape the fire.

During the trial the court heard that there was a string of fire safety issues in the accommodation - including a lack of fire alarms, empty fire extinguishers and an inadequate fire safety layout for the amount of people living in the property.

Mr Vallely and the Institute's legal team denied the charges and said local authorities knew how many people lived there.

The prosecutor said fire safety measures were "completely lacking".

Landlord Malachy Vallely. Credit: RTE
Landlord Malachy Vallely. Credit: RTE

Read More: Hearing into deaths of two tragic Irish students who died in Belgian fire begins

Colin Lynch, solicitor for the Zarina and Gibaldo families, said that their heartbroken relatives still have questions about what happened to the young women.

Speaking outside of court, he said: "The families of the late Sara Gibaldo and Dace Zarina wish to thank Belgian police and Leuven fire services for their efforts to investigate  the circumstances of the deaths of their beloved young girls.

"Dace and Sara were bright young students with immense promise and potential who came to Leuven believing they were embarking on an exciting chapter of their lives.

"For the families it has been a long and difficult road and only now are they getting an understanding of the circumstances surrounding their tragic loss.

"Unfortunately a lot of questions remain, how did two young and vulnerable students from GMIT end up being placed in what prosecutors have described as 'substandard and inappropriate accommodation?'

"The families hope that no other families will suffer this kind of loss."

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