Belfast Telegraph

Firms could still face charges over six students killed in balcony tragedy

By Shane Phelan

Criminal prosecutions are still possible on two fronts over the Berkeley balcony collapse which claimed the lives of six Irish students and seriously injured seven others.

The students died when the wooden balcony supports gave way during a party.

It is thought dry rot weakened the structure, which plunged the 13 young people four storeys to the ground.

Prosecutors in the US say they could revisit criminal charges after a civil suit by the survivors and the families of victims is concluded.

Separately, it has emerged that a different investigation by a licensing board for building contractors is close to completion and could yet result in criminal proceedings against several companies.

The district attorney for Alameda County in California announced on Tuesday that no criminal charges were being brought following a nine-month investigation into the tragedy.

Nancy O'Malley said she did not believe it would be possible to prove beyond reasonable doubt that any individual or company committed manslaughter through criminal negligence.

However, Kevin Dunleavy, the chief assistant district attorney, said yesterday that a criminal case could be revisited after the multimillion-dollar civil lawsuits have concluded.

He said this would happen if new evidence emerges during the civil actions. Mr Dunleavy added that prosecutors would be open to looking at any new information suggesting there was criminal negligence.

Meanwhile, a separate investigation by the Contractors State Licence Board in California could also end up with criminal proceedings being taken to strip building firms of their licences.

In a statement, it said its probe, looking at the five construction companies that helped build the Library Gardens building in Berkeley, was close to completion.

If the board rules the contractors' licenses should be stripped, their cases will be handed over to the California attorney general's office and prosecuted in the state administrative court, the statement said.

The board's chief of enforcement, David Fogt, said the probe was examining whether the various contractors involved followed the architectural plans for the balcony, including the use of the proper building materials, and whether workmanship standards were followed.

The district attorney's office has already concluded that the types of material used in construction were a contributory cause to the collapse of the balcony.

Ms O'Malley said earlier this week that the responsibility for this failure was likely to extend to "many of the parties involved in construction or maintenance of the building".

Students Lorcan Miller, Eoghan Culligan, Nick Schuster, Eimear Walsh and Olivia Burke, all from south Dublin, and Irish-American student Ashley Donohoe lost their lives in the tragic incident on June 16 last year.

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