Eamon Butterly, former manager of the Stardust nightclub, has taken to the witness stand at the inquest into the deaths of 48 people who died when fire engulfed the building during a Valentine’s Day disco in 1981.
Proceedings began this morning in Dublin District Coroner's Court with the Garda statement made by Mr Butterly in 1981 being read into the record.
In the statement, Mr Butterly described the tragic scenes:
“I saw that the fire extinguishers were not putting out the fire and I shouted at the men to concentrate on getting the people out of the premises.
“I then endeavoured as best I could with staff to raise the alarm and clear the building. As the smoke got progressively thicker I realised that I must leave the premises and I did so via the Silver Swan bar through a connecting door,” said Butterly, in 1981.
“I would like to add that in accordance with normal procedures I asked Tom Kennan, the head doorman, if all the fire exits were unlocked and he answered me that they were and that he had men stationed at each exit in accordance with standard procedure.
“I personally saw that ten of the exits were opened and Tom Keenan then went over to the other exits himself and came back to me and said everything was OK. This occurred between 11pm and 11.30pm.”
Butterly said that a policy of locking venue doors until 11.30pm had been “forced” on him, due to the fact that “a large number of people were getting in free due to the actions of their friends who were opening exit doors from the inside.”
Bathroom windows had been secured with metal grates and bars in the weeks preceding the fire.
“Patrons in the premises were going into the toilets and their friends outside were breaking the toilet windows and passing in weapons such as knives, hatchets and iron bars.
“On Sunday nights between the hours of 10pm and 12am patrons were going into the toilets and their friends outside were passing in bottles of intoxicating liquor,” Butterly told Gardai, in 1981.
A policy of draping chains over emergency exit push-bars to make them appear locked had “originated” with the doormen, with the same practice being used in other venues. Mr Butterly said that he had not objected to the practice.
“If a person was fleeing to an exit door and has been partly blinded by the smoke, all that the person had to do was to push the panic bars and the door opened immediately,” he said.
Mr Butterly said he believed the tragedy was a result of arson:
“The fact that I saw the seats were burning in a straight line and that the flames were running along the top of the said seats; the fact that there was no electrical apparatus in the partitioned off area except the lights in the ceiling which were still operating normally when seen by me at the time of the fire; that there had been no shows in the Stardust since the previous Sunday.
“That the fire was first seen up at the back of the tiered area where nobody would have needed to go; the statement of PJ Murphy (doorman) that morning to me in which he said that a girl had come over to him at the door and said, ‘They are after starting a fire in the corner,’” he said.
The former nightclub manager said that no fire officer had inspected the building during its conversion from a food factory to a nightclub, between 1977 and 1978.
He also said that, “No specific instructions were given to the staff in the event of a fire.”
Over the coming days, Mr Butterly is expected to answer questions from the inquests legal team and barristers for the families of the victims.