Stardust owner seeks to block off possibility of ‘unlawful killing’ verdicts

Eamon Butterly wants to prevent inquests into deaths in fire from making him ‘target’

Former Stardust manager Eamon Butterly is asking the High Court to prevent new inquests into the deaths of 48 people at the nightclub in 1981 from making him "a target for a verdict of unlawful killing".

On Friday his lawyers asked Mr Justice Charles Meenan to slot his application for leave to bring his challenge into next Monday's list for such cases.

The judge said he would hear his application on Monday if time allowed or adjourn the matter for a week.

Paul O’Higgins SC, for Mr Butterly, said his client was anxious to bring the challenge as quickly as possible.

The court heard that no date had yet been set by Dublin city coroner Myra Cullinane for the inquests.

Mr Butterly claims the coroner has refused to rule out the possibility that a jury can bring in a verdict of unlawful killing despite submissions he made to her arguing against this.

He and his family owned the nightclub in Artane, Dublin, when a fire broke out on the night of February 13th-14th, 1981. Some 48 people died and 128 were injured.

There were a number of inquiries into the disaster over the years including inquests in 1982 that recorded deaths in accordance with the medical evidence.

The families of the deceased have long campaigned for new inquests.

Only living person

In 2019, then attorney general Seamus Woulfe directed the holding of fresh inquests saying there was an "insufficiency of inquiry as to how the deaths occurred, namely a failure to sufficiently consider those of the surrounding circumstances that concern the cause or causes of the fire".

Ms Cullinane was directed to hold the new inquests and conducted pre-inquest hearings, during which the question of whether a jury could reach a verdict of unlawful killing became an issue. She refused to rule out the question of a verdict of unlawful killing, it is claimed.

Mr Butterly’s lawyers said the “proposed targets of the claim of unlawful killing” put forward by lawyers for families of the deceased consisted of four named individuals and a company. Mr Butterly appeared to be the “only living natural person” among those, it was stated.

It meant he would be “clearly named for the killing by implication if he and other persons in this group were to be found guilty of unlawful killing in the course of these inquests”, it was also argued.

His action is against the coroner, the Minister for Justice and the Attorney General.

The families of the deceased represented before the Stardust inquest, the Garda Commissioner, Dublin City Council and Patricia Kennedy, mother of Marie Kennedy, are notice parties in the case.

Order sought

Mr Butterly seeks an order prohibiting the coroner from conducting the inquests in a manner that involves an investigation or consideration of a possible verdict of unlawful killing.

He also seeks an order quashing the coroner’s decision of February 16 to refuse to rule out an unlawful killing verdict.

He seeks declarations including an unlawful killing verdict is not one that may be lawfully returned under the Coroners Act. He seeks a declaration that the coroner’s discretion to consider the circumstances in which a death occurred or to make findings in relation to same is not unlimited and can only be considered in accordance with law.

Alternatively, he says if an unlawful killing verdict is available, he seeks a declaration that there has been a failure to make any provision for him to apply for legal aid to participate in the inquests or for him to apply for his costs, in breach of fair procedures and natural justice.

He also seeks, if necessary, an injunction restraining the inquests from going ahead until his judicial review proceedings have been dealt with.