Tuesday 16 July 2019

Inquest hears that chip pan started fire in Carrickmines

Heartbreaking evidence being heard at Dublin coroner's court

Tara Gilbert, Willy Lynch and their children Kelsey and Jody
Tara Gilbert, Willy Lynch and their children Kelsey and Jody
Christy Connors
Thomas and Sylvia Connors

Gardaí believe the fire which claimed the lives of five adults and five children in the early hours of October 10, 2015, was probably started by a chip pan being left on a hot plate, an inquest has heard.

The blaze claimed the lives of Thomas Connors (28), his wife Sylvia (30), and their children Jim (5), Christy (3) and five-month-old Mary.

Also killed were Willy Lynch (25), his partner Tara Gilbert (27) who was pregnant, and their daughters, Jodie (9) and Kelsey (4). Jimmy Lynch (39), a brother of Sylvia and Willie, also lost his life.

Baby Mary, the youngest victim, was initially rescued from her parents' cabin and brought to the apparent safety of a neighbouring unit - however, the inferno spread rapidly to that unit.

Like the rest of the victims, her cause of death was given as carbon monoxide poisoning due to smoke inhalation.

Jim Connors Junior told gardai that he was woken by the screams of his wife Katie, in the early hours of October 10, 2015, and saw his brother Thomas's portacabin ablaze.

'I could see the flames from my back door, the flames were in the kitchen of Thomas and Sylvia's cabin,' the inquest in Dublin heard. 'I went to the front door and kicked it in. I could feel myself burning and I had to go back out.'

He said he broke a window of a bedroom to try and let the smoke out and reached in to try and grab someone out.

He managed to grab baby Mary who later perished as the inferno swept the site.

A taxi driver who came upon the scene that morning said that the flames were the height of a two-storey house.

14-year-old John Keith Connors climbed into a burning portacabin to try and rescue his family. He rescued seven-year-old Thomas but was unable to lift his brother Thomas Connors Senior and his wife Sylvia who were unconscious.

Detective Inspector Martin Creighton told the inquest the fire probably started due to a chip pan being left on a hot plate at full power.

Conor Peoples, a senior staff officer at the Traveller Accommodation Unit at Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, told how the temporary halting site was extended to accommodate Thomas and Sylvia Connors.

He said the original plan had been for the family's cabin to be placed perpendicular to the Glenamuck Road, however it ended up being craned in to a parallel position due to the gradient of the land.

It meant the Connors' cabin was placed a metre away from the neighbouring unit, which also caught fire as the blaze spread.

Asked by Coroner Dr Myra Cullinane if there were regulations about distances between units, Mr Peoples said: 'My understanding now is the optimum distance was six metres.'

Niamh Foley, barrister for the Lynch family, put it to Mr Peoples that an expert commissioned by An Garda Síochána to carry out a report on the fire found there were no fire blankets, fire extinguishers or smoke alarms.

Mr Peoples said he was 'surprised' to hear that as all these items had been supplied at the halting site and there were documents to show this.

Brian Kennedy, a senior caretaker with the council, said a fire extinguisher was put in the bay occupied by the Connors' cabin and a smoke alarm was fitted inside the cabin.

The inquest continues before a jury of eight men and four women.

Bray People