Garda makes intervention in Bray firemen inquest

Investigator into the deaths of the two men spoke up from the body of the court

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, in September 2007. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

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, in September 2007. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Thu, Mar 6, 2014, 19:47

There was an intervention at the Bray fire fighters inquest today by the garda who was in charge of the investigation. Detective Garda Maurice Hickey spoke up from the body of the court.

Proceedings into the deaths of firefighters Brian Murray (46)and Mark O’Shaughnessy (25), who died on September 26th 2007, while fighting a fire in a disused factory in Co Wicklow, were halted by the coroner, Dr Brian Farrell. Counsel for Wicklow County Council, Luán Ó Braonáin, SC, who was leading his witness, Michael Slattery, a fire investigator hired by the Council, said he felt he had been ambushed.

“I need to clarify this matter before we go any further,” said the coroner Dr Farrell as he adjourned the inquest until May 1st.

The unexpected turn of events centred around a partly charred and crushed five litre tin can with a label on it indicating the contents at one time were Granyte, an industrial standard lacquer that is highly flammable. The last occupant of the disused factory in which the blaze occured and the two men died, a joiner named Alan Ryan, had already told the inquest that the can was not there when he vacated the premises in 2006.

For some days at the inquest, Mr Ó Braonáin has been questioning expert witnesses retained by the Council as to the possibility that liquid inside the can may have expanded during the blaze, creating vapours that blew off the screw top cap and issued into the inferno, causing a fireball which incapacitated the man and led to their deaths.

It had also been suggested that one of the late fire fighters may triggered the event by stepping on the can.

Many photographs of the can have been shown to the jury and the can itself has been brought to the court for examination by jurors and witnesses for the Council, one of whom had not seen it before but wrote a report saying it probably caused a fireball.

Yesterday’s dramatic development occurred when Michael Slattery of Slattery and Associates of Dublin was giving evidence. He had been hired by the council on the day of the blaze as its main external fire investigator and was brought to the site for two hours on the 27th by senior Wicklow fire officials, then Chief Fire Officer, Jim Dunphy, and two senior assistant chief fire officers, Joanne O’Connor and Tadhg O’Shea.

Mr Slattery explained his role to the coroner and was being taken through his report by Mr Ó Braonáin, with the aid of photographs projected onto several screens in the court room. As he did so, there was an interjection, from the body of the court, by Detective Garda Maurice Hickey, the lead garda in the criminal investigation into the men’s deaths, which that led to the Council being fined €355,000, with €96,000 costs, after admitting multiple breaches of health and safety at work laws.

“Can I clarify?” Garda Hickey asked as Mr Slattery was giving his evidence. “That photograph you took on the 27th that we’re seeing there. That’s in situ, not moved, that can?”

Mr Slattery indicated yes.

“I’ll show a photograph of the 26th then,” responded Det Garda Hickey, stepping towards the projector.

As he placed his iPad on the projector an image was relayed to the screens, there was a gasp from relatives of the dead men sitting in the public seating of the court.

“What are we seeing there,” asked the coroner.

“The point I’m making,” said Detective Garda Hickey, “is that the can is not there on the 26th but it is there on the 27th.”