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Friday 15 December 2017

Exclusive: 'Our daughter's life was worth more than €6,000' - family of Sara (19) seek justice

  • 'We were so shocked to see him laughing' - Upset by 'slum landlord's' conduct
  • The Gibadlo family are still seeking justice for their daughter's tragic death
Sara Gibadlo
Sara Gibadlo
Jozef and Malgorzta Gibadlo together with their daughter Maggie Photo: Andrew Downes
Amy Molloy

Amy Molloy

The landlord of a house where two Irish students perished in a fire "never apologised" and was "laughing away on his phone" the day after his guilty verdict was handed down, the family of one of the victims has claimed.

Malachy Vallely, director of the Leuven Institute for Ireland in Europe and owner of the student accommodation in Belgium where Dace Zarina (22) and Sara Gibaldo (19) died in 2014, was found guilty on September 5.

Maggie Gibadło, who lives in Oranmore Galway with a picture of her sister, Sara. Photo: Andrew Downes, xposure
Maggie Gibadło, who lives in Oranmore Galway with a picture of her sister, Sara. Photo: Andrew Downes, xposure

He received a €6,000 fine and a one-year suspended sentence.

The family of Sara Gibadlo said that while "some justice" was achieved, the outcome is not what they had hoped for.

"They were found guilty, and fair enough, but we just can’t comprehend how somebody's life is worth €6,000...our daughter's life was worth more than that," Malgorzta Gibadlo told Independent.ie.

"Also, the day after the case, we went down to place some flowers for the girls and on our way back...I can’t even describe in words...we were so shocked to see him [Malachy Vallely] walking in the opposite direction, laughing away and talking on the phone. He looked at us, but he didn't recognise us. He didn't appear for the verdict and the way he is conducting himself, the way he tried to blame others, is just heartbreaking and unfair."

Ms Zarina and Ms Gibadlo were on a placement at the Leuven Institute as part of a business degree in catering and hotel management at the Galway and Mayo Institute of Technology.

The Gibadlo family said Sara had hoped to become a primary school teacher one day and wanted to volunteer abroad to help children in need.

"She had her whole future planned out. She wanted to finish her course in GMIT and she was really excited to become a primary school teacher as she loved kids. She was always smiling and she always knew how to include everyone in a conversation," her younger sister Maggie said.

"She was like my mom - I could trust her with my life."

Jozef and Malgorzta Gibadlo together with their daughter Maggie Photo: Andrew Downes
Jozef and Malgorzta Gibadlo together with their daughter Maggie Photo: Andrew Downes

It's been over three years since Sara tragically died but her family said time hasn't been a healer.

"The more time passes, the more you think about her. I always wonder would she have got married, where she would have lived...I feel like our family has missed out on so much. She was at the age where she could take me shopping and she would always buy me stuff. She was just an amazing sister and I miss her every day."

Police and fire fighters at the scene of the deadly blaze in Bank Straat, Leuven, Belgium. Inset left: Sara Gibadlo; right: Dace Zarina and bottom: Louise McCormack, who survived the fire tragedy
Police and fire fighters at the scene of the deadly blaze in Bank Straat, Leuven, Belgium. Inset left: Sara Gibadlo; right: Dace Zarina and bottom: Louise McCormack, who survived the fire tragedy

Mrs Gibadlo said her daughter loved reading, playing tennis and dancing. All her books have been left untouched in her bedroom.

The talented youngster was so intelligent, she skipped a year in secondary school.

"She was always ahead and studied a lot. Everything had to be given 100pc and hard work was the only way she knew," Mrs Gibadlo said.

Her family members also said Sara wasn't one to complain, which is why she put up with her poor quality accommodation in Belgium.

"We would Skype her every night and she would show us around the accommodation. She told us they weren't allowed to have any electrical appliances except a kettle as there were problems before. My mom told her we would find her somewhere else to live but she didn't want to kick up a fuss with the Institute as she was worried it would affect her and she didn't want any arguments with the college," Maggie said.

The family, originally from Poland, have been living in Oranmore, Co Galway for a number of years.

They are appealing for politicians, in both Belgium and Ireland, to make a stand against substandard accommodation.

"Politicians and lawmakers need to get involved and make a change. These two girls did not deserve any of this. It was horrific and nobody deserves anything like this. Even in Ireland, we are seeing such horrible living conditions. A change has to be made," Mrs Gibadlo said.

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" and described Vallely as a "slum landlord" who used the accommodation as a "cash cow".

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 was found guilty of causing involuntary death and received a three-month suspended sentence.

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