Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

'Unanswered questions' over blaze

The scene where firefighters Mark O'Shaugnessy and Brian Murray died in a fire at a disused building in Bray, Co Wicklow.

The grieving families of two firemen killed on duty have claimed questions remain unanswered after a council was fined 355,000 euro by a judge.

Father of 15, Brian Murray, 46, and 26-year-old Mark O'Shaughnessy died fighting a blaze at a disused ink factory at Adelaide Villas in Bray on September 26, 2007.

Wicklow County Council was fined for health and safety violations by Judge Desmond Hogan, who found the system used on the day was "antiquated, inefficient and flawed".

Some of Mr Murray's family walked out of the court in disgust when they heard the detail of the fines.

Outside the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court councillor John Brady, a spokesman for both families, said they were disappointed and that they believed the fines were lenient.

"But they do welcome the criticism of the management of the fire service in Wicklow," he said.

"In relation to the fines, the families do welcome the fact that the taxpayer doesn't have to pay a hefty fine for the council's shortcomings.

"There are however unanswered questions surrounding the deaths of both Brian and Mark and the families believe that these issues will be addressed during the upcoming inquest."

A coroner's court will examine how the men died on duty, during a three-day hearing from November 13.

Judge Hogan told the court an offence of "causing the death of" was no longer before him after the council pleaded guilty to three other charges during a trial in June.

"I'm most cognisant that two firefighters whose bravery has never been in question, whose competence has never been in doubt and who followed orders in the most difficult and dangerous scenario are now deceased," he said.

"I'm mindful of that and I offer my deepest sympathies to the families and relations of the deceased.

"Nothing I say or do is going to restore these firefighters to their relatives and indeed to their friends and colleagues."

The council was fined 50,000 for failing to ensure the health, safety and welfare of firefighters by not sending a second tender to the industrial fire and failed to have an adequate central command system to call for back up crews.

It was fined 5,000 euro for failing to review and update a safety statement - dated back to 1994 - and was hit with a 300,000 euro fine for "the most serious issue" of failing to provide adequate training on a new compressed air foam system.

The council has also been ordered to pay almost 96,000 euro in legal fees

Mr Murray's widow Mary was supported by a number of their children, aged from seven to 34 years, including Brian Junior who is now also a firefighter in Bray.

Mr O'Shaughnessy's girlfriend Hazel O'Brien and his brother Eamon also attended the hearing.

No charges were ever brought against any named individual, but the council initially faced four counts of breaches of health and safety laws after a joint investigation by the Health and Safety Authority (HAS) and gardai.

Several high ranking officials in Wicklow County Council had been arrested during the Garda inquiry.

On the eighth day of a trial in June the local authority entered three guilty pleas when the director of public prosecutions amended the charges to exclude a claim that the safety breaches had caused the deaths of the two men.

Harrowing evidence from firefighters who attended the fatal blaze in the building compared it with a time bomb, an incinerator, and like a 747 aeroplane crash.

The trial also heard that six firefighters were sent to the incident, but there should have been twice that number.

The families and the Irish Fire and Emergency Services Association (IFESA) said the case highlights the need for a national fire service.

John Kidd, national chairman of IFESA, also criticised the council's attitude since the tragedy and up until it pleaded guilty which he claimed was deeply disturbing and added enormously to the trauma and grief of families, friends and colleagues.

"From day one there has been a concerted policy by the council to deny all liability for the deaths of Brian and Mark until the harrowing evidence emerging at the trial left the council with no option but to admit a guilty plea," said Mr Kidd.

Mitigating circumstances included the council's guilty plea and co-operation with the investigations, but the judge refused to take account of the council's plea that its budget was smaller than other local authorities.

In a statement Wicklow county manager Eddie Sheehy said he accepted that there were breaches in a number of systems of work in the operation of its fire services between 2005 and 2007.

"The amended indictment importantly acknowledged that the deaths of sub-officer Brian Murray and firefighter Mark O'Shaughnessy while fighting a fire in Bray in September 2007 were not as a consequence of the breaches of the Act of 2005," he said.

"The council understands and is sensitive to the distress caused during the course of the hearing. However, the immediate acceptance of the amended indictment facilitated the trial being brought to a close at the earliest possible date.

"Wicklow County Council again extends its deepest sympathy to the families of the deceased men - two dedicated and brave firefighters who tragically lost their lives in the incident."

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