Leuven court to rule on damages over fire which killed two Irish students

Dace Zarina (22) and Sara Gibadlo (19) died in a house fire in Belgium in 2014

Sara Gibadlo (left,19) of Oranmore, Co Galway, and Dace Zarina (22), from Co Longford, who died in a fire at a residence linked to a college in Leuven, Belgium.

Sara Gibadlo (left,19) of Oranmore, Co Galway, and Dace Zarina (22), from Co Longford, who died in a fire at a residence linked to a college in Leuven, Belgium.

 

A court in the Belgian university town of Leuven is set to rule on Tuesday on damages in the case of an apartment fire that killed two Irish students in 2014.

Dace Zarina (22) from Longford and Sara Gibadlo (19) from Oranmore, Co Galway, died in a fire at a house in January 2014.

The director of the Irish college in Leuven, Malachy Vallely, was convicted in September and given a one-year suspended sentence and fined €6,000 in relation to the fire by the Leuven Correctional Court.

The court also found the Leuven Institute for Ireland in Europe responsible for the women’s deaths and fined it €60,000.

Slum landlord

The court also found 22-year-old student Shane Bracken from Co Offaly, who was staying at the same residence, guilty of causing involuntary deaths due to a cigarette and sentenced him to a suspended three-months jail term and fined him €600.

The two female students were on 30-week placements at the Belgian college from Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) when they died in the fire in 2014.

Vallely, described as a “slum landlord” who used his apartment as a “cash cow” for 23 years, rented his apartment to the Leuven Institute to house students.

During the trial Vallely was accused of multiple fire safety breaches and overcrowding of the residences. The prosecutor told the court that fire safety in the residence in which the two students were killed had been “completely lacking,” and that the building had been inappropriately used to house the students.

Vallely and the institute denied this and the charges, saying the local authorities were aware students lived in the apartment.

They alleged Ms Zarina and Ms Gibadlo may have died because they were drunk on the night of the fire and did not react quickly enough once the fire began. Lawyers for the victims’ families said the court had clearly found that not to be the case.

Huddled in wardrobe

The fire began in the early hours of January 31st, 2014. An Irish student in a neighbouring room, Louise McCormack, alerted the two women when the fire broke out. Ms McCormack then fled back to her room and managed to escape through her window on to the roof. The two victims died from smoke inhalation as they huddled in a wardrobe while the fire swept through the building.

Speaking to The Irish Times in September, Ms Zarina’s mother, Sanita Zarina, said she felt robbed by her daughter’s death. “I can’t get back my daughter,” she said. “I can’t get back a future with her. I can’t get grandchildren from her.”

“I hope my story can change something for next students [AND]for their parents,” she said. “That they understand, maybe how to look, how to check, where their children are going. That’s really important for me.”