Sunday 22 July 2018

'We don't want this' - Family of Buncrana five 'concerned' at backlash against Stephanie Knox

  • Stephanie Knox is seeking damages for 'loss of earnings and other matters'
  • Ms Knox said she never intended to sue the estate of the deceased family
  • Noel McGrotty (86), who lost five family members, calls for an end to the backlash
  • 'The wee girl must have suffered psychological shock and I can understand that'
Stephanie Knox, who received the Seiko Just in Time Rescue award, at the Irish Water Safety's National Awards Ceremony at The Printworks, Dublin Castle in 2016
Photo: Tony Gavin
Stephanie Knox, who received the Seiko Just in Time Rescue award, at the Irish Water Safety's National Awards Ceremony at The Printworks, Dublin Castle in 2016 Photo: Tony Gavin

Amy Molloy, Shane Phelan and Laura Lynott

A grieving family member of those who died in the Buncrana pier tragedy has said that his family are trying to "move on" and called for the end of backlash aimed at a woman who helped rescue the family.

Noel McGrotty (86), who lost five family members in the tragedy two years ago, was speaking after it emerged yesterday that a woman who helped rescue a baby during the tragedy was suing for "loss of earnings and other matters" after witnessing five people lose their lives.

Sean McGrotty (49), his sons Mark (12) and Evan (8), his mother-in-law Ruth Daniels (59) and her daughter Jodie-Lee (14), died when the SUV vehicle they were in slid on algae and slipped into the water at Lough Swilly on March 20, 2016.

Cardiac physiologist Stephanie Knox is seeking damages after witnessing the tragedy.

Sean McGrotty with his partner Louise, four-month-old Rionaghac-Ann, and sons Mark (11), right, and Evan (8)
Sean McGrotty with his partner Louise, four-month-old Rionaghac-Ann, and sons Mark (11), right, and Evan (8)

Speaking to Independent.ie yesterday, Ms Knox said she didn’t realise the estate would be included in the proceedings and had received a number of abusive messages since the matter became public earlier this week.

Lawyers acting on her behalf initiated a personal injuries suit in the High Court earlier this month.

The action is against Donegal County Council, which owns the pier, and the solicitor acting as executor to the estate of Sean McGrotty.

Speaking to Independent.ie, Noel McGrotty (86), Sean McGrotty’s father, said he was concerned by public backlash directed at Ms Knox.

Scene of Buncrana pier tragedy (Inset: Stephanie Knox, the ex-partner of Davitt Walsh, the man who rescued four-month-old Rioghnach Ann McGrotty)
Scene of Buncrana pier tragedy (Inset: Stephanie Knox, the ex-partner of Davitt Walsh, the man who rescued four-month-old Rioghnach Ann McGrotty)

“I do not know the wee girl but the only thing I’m afraid of now is that the public opinion might be damaging her,” he said.

“My family doesn’t want that. The newspapers aren’t thinking of the consequences of this...The wee girl must have suffered psychological shock and I can understand that.

“This is in the hands of our solicitors. Life has to go on, I’m that type of person.”

Sean McGrotty was the driver of the SUV that slid down the algae-covered pier into Lough Swilly and submerged, trapping him and four passengers inside.

Louise James pictured with her Solicitor, Robert Anderson after The Buncrana Pier Tragedy Inquest at THe Lake of Shadows Hotel, Buncrana, Co. Donegal
Louise James pictured with her Solicitor, Robert Anderson after The Buncrana Pier Tragedy Inquest at THe Lake of Shadows Hotel, Buncrana, Co. Donegal

It is understood that Knox’s former partner Davitt Walsh, who rescued four-month-old Rioghnach Ann McGrotty, is not pursuing legal action.

Lawyers representing Ms Knox did not comment yesterday.

However, legal sources said an action against the estate was necessary if a claim was to be made against Mr McGrotty’s insurer.

“I’m under so much stress and heartache and I would love it to just blow over,” she said.

Ms Knox said she continued to suffer from PTSD. “I’ve been suffering ever since that day. It took me a long time to get help because I was afraid to talk about the accident I just wanted to hide it. This has just been a horrible nightmare,” she said.

Ms Knox is the second person to issue proceedings against the estate.

Louise James, who lost her partner, Mr McGrotty, two sons, a sister and her mother in the tragedy, has also sued both the council and the estate.

A post-mortem examination found Mr McGrotty was more than three times the legal drink-driving limit when the accident happened.

Noel McGrotty was also critical of Donegal County Council, and the findings of the inquest.

An inquest found the victims died from drowning and that it was a case of death by misadventure.

Ms Knox’s case came into the public domain after Mr McGrotty’s father Noel (86) disclosed he had received a letter about the action.

It is understood the letter was sent by the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, which is obliged under law to inform parties against whom a claim is being made.

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