Belfast Telegraph

Ex-Antrim hurler Vallely fined over students' deaths in house fire

By Cate McCurry

A former Antrim hurler has been fined after two Irish students died in a house fire at their accommodation where he was the landlord.

Malachy Vallely is the 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.

Both were students at the Galway Mayo Institute of Technology and were on work placement with the Irish college in Leuven, Belgium.

The accommodation is run by Vallely and on Tuesday a three-judge court sentenced him to one year’s imprisonment, suspended, and fined £5,400.

He was found guilty of multiple failings under Belgium’s fire regulations leading, through negligence, to the students’ death, while not intending them to die.

The Institute was fined £54,500.

At an earlier hearing, the court heard him described as a “slum landlord” who used the student accommodation as a “cash cow” to enrich himself.

Ms Zarina and Ms Gibaldo died when a blaze ripped through the student house in Leuven they were living in 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 were 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.

Vallely, who is a former county hurler for Antrim GAA, was said to have transformed the institute into a significant cultural settlement for Irish students since the 1980s.

Through his persuasion, the college received £3m from the Northern Ireland Executive, as well as money from the Irish government, to invest in facilities and restore the place.

It is not clear who runs the institute, although on its website there is a board made up of representatives from the public and private sector and higher education sector drawn from the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Belgium.

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