Fire chiefs failed to answer Garda questions over Bray deaths

Three in charge of Co Wicklow’s fire service declined to answer 1,300 questions on firefighter deaths

A picture of firefighters Mark O’Shaugnessy (left) and Brian Murray at the scene where they died in a fire at a disused building in Bray, Co Wicklow. Photograph: Niall Carson

A picture of firefighters Mark O’Shaugnessy (left) and Brian Murray at the scene where they died in a fire at a disused building in Bray, Co Wicklow. Photograph: Niall Carson

Sat, May 17, 2014, 14:23

The three people in charge of Co Wicklow’s fire service declined to answer more than 1,300 questions when interviewed by Garda detectives investigating the deaths of two Bray firefighters in 2007.

The person with overall responsibility for the fire service, Wicklow county manager Eddie Sheehy, did answer questions. However, when presented with records of the interviews, he repeatedly refused to sign his acceptance that the records were accurate.

The questions were asked of the Wicklow chief fire officer Jim Dunphy, now retired, and his two assistant chief fire officers, Tadhg O’Shea and Joanne O’Connor, who retain their positions within the service.

Firefighters Brian Murray (46) and Mark O’Shaughnessy (26) died on September 26th, 2007, fighting a blaze inside a disused factory at Adelaide Villas in Bray. They were using a new extinguishing agent known as Cafs (Compressed Air Foam System), in which they had not been trained.

Safety breaches
In July 2013, Wicklow County Council was convicted in the Circuit Criminal Court of multiple health and safety at work breaches and was fined €355,000, plus costs estimated at €95,000.

On May 9th last, an inquest jury in Dublin found that contributory factors in the circumstances of the men’s deaths included a lack of Cafs training, the council’s failure to maintain vital communications equipment and its failure to give firefighters specific instructions on how they should respond to a variety of given situations.

The jury also expressed “serious concern” that the council had not carried out an internal investigation into what happened on the day of the men’s deaths.

Mr Dunphy, Mr O’Shea and Ms O’Connor were arrested separately in September 2008, October 2008 and February 2009. They were questioned by gardaí during 13 separate sessions. Each was cautioned and told they had a right to remain silent, but that a court could draw inferences from a failure to answer questions.

‘Ludicrous’
According to transcripts seen by The Irish Times, Mr Dunphy described as “ludicrous” his arrest for alleged endangerment of firefighters.

He answered almost none of more than 500 questions, including the first which was “Please state your rank in Wicklow fire service”.

To this and almost all other questions, he replied saying: “On the basis of legal advice I wish to make no comment.”

Mr O’Shea, who in February 2008 answered Garda questions when interviewed without being arrested, declined to answer over 430 questions when arrested seven months later.

Ms O’Connor, who also answered Garda questions in February 2008 while not under arrest, declined to answer over 360 questions when arrested eight months later.