The 1,300 unanswered questions about deaths of two Wicklow firefighters

Transcripts of Garda interviews with senior fire service officials and county manager reveal how they responded to inquiry into deaths

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 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 2007. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Sat, May 17, 2014, 07:00

The three most senior officials in Wicklow fire service declined to answer over 1,300 questions put to them by gardaí investigating the deaths of two of their colleagues.

Jim Dunphy, the chief fire officer of Co Wicklow, now retired, refused to answer more than 500 questions from detectives. His two assistants, senior assistant chief fire officer Tadhg O’Shea and senior assistant chief fire officer Joanne O’Connor, refused to answer more than 430 and more than 360 questions respectively, according to transcripts of the interviews seen by The Irish Times.

Both O’Shea and O’Connor remain members of the fire service, holding the same rank and continuing to have supervisory authority over members of the service, as they did in 2007. Dunphy retired in 2012. The three were arrested on separate dates in 2008 and 2009. Each was cautioned and each opted, as entitled under law, to exercise a right to remain silent. Gardaí told them that, by exercising their right to remain silent, a court “may in future draw such inferences from the failure [to answer questions] as appear proper”.

Also arrested and questioned under caution was Wicklow county manager Eddie Sheehy. While he answered questions put to him, he declined to sign five transcripts of interviews but did sign one. In declining to sign, Sheehy said he would not do so “without consulting my solicitor”.

The arresting gardaí were investigating the deaths, on September 26th, 2007, of two Bray firefighters: father-of-15 Brian Murray (46) and Mark O’Shaughnessy (26), who was single. They died fighting a blaze inside a disused factory at Adelaide Terrace in Bray.

Wicklow County Council initially denied any responsibility for events on the day and the circumstances leading to them. But in July 2013 changed its plea to an amended indictment and, in Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, admitted multiple breaches of health and safety at work legislation. It was was later fined €355,000 plus costs. The plea came on the ninth day of the trial and only after the original indictment was amended to remove a causal link between the breaches of health and safety at work laws and the men’s deaths. In the original indictment, the council had been charged that the men died “as a result” of the council’s breaches of the law.

Joint investigation
The case arose from a joint investigation by the Garda and the Health and Safety Authority (HSA). It began informally in the hours after the fire, when HSA inspector Kevin Broderick arrived at the scene and conducted an initial examination along with Dalkey-based Garda scene- of-crime investigators. The joint approach was formally set in train the next day, after a meeting at Bray Garda station presided over by Insp (now Supt) Tony O’Donnell of Bray. The two agencies agreed that, under a pre-existing memorandum of understanding and protocol between the Garda – notably Det Garda Maurice Hickey of Bray – and the HSA, they would work together, sharing information and resources.

While the Garda and the HSA were satisfied almost immediately that the fire had been caused accidentally (by a welder sealing shut a metal gate into the disused factory, thereby setting on fire rubbish dumped illegally behind it), this did not mean that crimes had not been committed. In this case, the chief suspect quickly emerged as Wicklow County Council.

Less than two months after the fire, on November 13th, 2007, chief fire officer Dunphy was interviewed by Broderick, who was assisted by his fellow HSA inspector on the case, Frank Kerins.

It was a routine session. In the course of 38 questions, Dunphy was asked about his qualifications, what his job involved, how he did it, to whom he reported and who reported to him, and what their duties were. He explained that he reported to Bryan Doyle, director of environmental services in the council and one of county manager Eddie Sheehy’s senior management team.

Dunphy said Tadhg O’Shea was responsible for procurement. Joanne O’Connor was responsible for training, and for the service’s training centre at Bray fire station. Each of them was also responsible for human resources and industrial relations matters and, in addition to her training duties, O’Connor for major emergency management. The interview was carried out under section 21 of the 1984 Criminal Justice Act and, as evidenced by the nine-page transcript, Dunphy answered all questions without difficulty.

Things were different on February 6th, 2009, however. Dunphy was interviewed again, this time after being arrested under section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act for, he was told, “the offence of endangerment to members of Wicklow fire service”. The alleged offences related to performance of his official duties from appointment in June 1998 to November 2007.

Dunphy told the gardaí, O’Donnell and Det Garda Stephen Ryan, that the charges were “ludicrous”. They told him that if he failed to mention a fact on which he relied in his defence at a later date, a court could draw an inference from that failure. This did not affect his right to silence, they said, but “there may be consequences for you in any future court proceedings”.

Having been read this aspect of the law formally, Dunphy declined to sign a document to that effect. “On the basis of my legal advice I do not wish to sign that document,” he told the gardaí.

The interview proper then began.

“Please state your rank in Wicklow fire service,” said the gardaí.

“On the basis of legal advice I wish to make no comment,” replied the county’s chief fire officer.

“How long have you held this rank?” asked the gardaí.

“On the basis of legal advice I wish to make no comment,” said Dunphy.

“How long have you served in Wicklow fire service?” asked the gardaí.

The transcript of the interview then records his answer as “As above”.

In the course of 196 questions, he repeated the same answer: “On the basis of legal advice I wish to make no comment.”

There was one exception – question 13 from the gardaí. “You have been arrested for the offence of endangerment,” they told him. “We believe that you performed the duties of CFO [chief fire officer] attached to Wicklow fire service recklessly, resulting in conduct which created a substantial risk of death or serious harm to others. Do you understand?”

Dunphy: “Repeat question, I understood and I totally deny.”

The interview, having started at 9.37am, continued until 11.27am, during which Dunphy refused to answer 196 questions. It resumed at 1.14pm and carried on until 2.23pm, during which time he refused to answer a further 90 questions.

More questions
After a break, the interview resumed for a third session at 3.55pm until 4.59pm, during which Dunphy refused to answer 231 more questions. The transcript of this part of the interview ends with a question from Ryan. “Having heard this memo [the record of the interview] read over to you, do you wish to add or change anything?” asked the detective.