Stardust inquest: Former nightclub exec Eamon Butterly says coroner should tell jury they can’t overturn wrongful death verdict

Former Stardust nightclub manager Eamon Butterly has claimed in the Supreme Court that the coroner conducting new inquiries into the 1981 disaster should instruct the jury he cannot return a wrongful death sentence.

Aul O’Higgins SC, who opened Mr Butterly’s challenge to the new investigation, said the jury should be told at the outset that an inquest into wrongful death “forms no part” of the trial. The coroner does not enjoy “full discretion” under the Coroners Act and the Constitution in this regard, he said.

The attorney said it is a fundamental requirement of any such investigation by the coroner that the jury learn as much as possible about the context of the deaths. However, he added that it also needed to be told that a wrongful death inquest was not part of it, and it would be inappropriate not to tell the jury that.

Lawyers for Mr Butterly say the “proposed targets of the unlawful killing allegation” put forward by lawyers for families of the deceased consisted of four named individuals and a company. He (Mr. Butterly) appeared to be the “only living natural person” among these, it is alleged.

It meant that if he and others in this group were found guilty of unlawful homicide in this investigation, he would be “clearly named for implied homicide,” it said.

The court heard Dublin County Coroner Myra Cullinane conduct pre-inquest hearings where the question of whether a jury could reach a verdict of wrongful death became an issue. She has refused to rule out the question of a wrongful death conviction, it said.

The establishment of new investigations came after then-Attorney General Seamus Woulfe ordered them to be conducted in 2019. Mr Woulfe stated there was an “inadequacy in the investigation into how the deaths occurred, namely a failure to take sufficient account of the surrounding circumstances affecting the cause or causes of the fire”.

Mr Butterly and his family owned the nightclub in Artane, Dublin when a fire broke out on 14 February 1981 killing 48 and injuring 128.

There have been a number of inquiries over the years, including an inquiry in 1982, which recorded deaths according to the medical evidence.

The families of the deceased have long fought for new investigations.

Mr Butterly brought his case to the High Court after filing with the coroner when she circulated a draft of “undisputed facts” last November, Mr O’Higgins said.

The case is against the coroner, the justice minister and the attorney general. The families of the deceased who were represented before the Stardust Inquiry, the Garda Commissioner, Dublin City Council and Patricia Kennedy, mother of Marie Kennedy, are involved in the case as disclosure.

Phoenix Law, the attorneys representing most of the families, submitted on the November coroner’s draft that wrongful death/wrongful death by gross criminal negligence should be considered in relation to all circumstances of the fire, including the management and operation of the nightclub . It was also argued that primary evidence should be used in the investigation regarding these issues, the attorney said.

Mr O’Higgins said his side never suggested that the way the Stardust was managed should not be taken into account where relevant. However, it did not follow that the issue of unlawful homicide should be considered, and that is outside the Coroner’s Act, he said

The coroner, who was following her own legal advice in response to the Phoenix Act submissions, “expressed doubts” about some of those submissions and that it was inappropriate to rule on them at this time.

The attorney also dismissed a characterization by Phoenix Law that he (Mr. O’Higgins) had admitted in submissions to the coroner on behalf of Mr. Butterly that a wrongful death sentence could be reached.

Mr O’Higgins also said the families had been given free legal assistance in the investigation, which his client did not object to, but Mr Butterly should be entitled to the same assistance.

The case continues before Mr. Judge Charles Meenan. Stardust inquest: Former nightclub exec Eamon Butterly says coroner should tell jury they can’t overturn wrongful death verdict

Fry Electronics Team

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