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Former Stardust manager Eamon Butterly accused of ‘telling lies’ to inquests

Eamon Butterly, former manager of the Stardust nightclub in north Dublin in which 48 people died in a fire 42 years ago, was accused of “telling lies” to inquests into the deaths on Thursday and “misleading” gardaí in 1981.

Mr Butterly, who spent a fifth day in the witness box at Dublin Coroner’s Court, rejected the assertions by Michael O’Higgins SC for families of 10 of the dead.

Mr O’Higgins said the now 78-year-old witness’s accounts of crucial events before, after and on the night of the disaster were “completely vague”, “contradictory” and “not founded on truth”.

Fresh inquests into the deaths of 48 people, aged 16 to 27, in the Artane venue in the early hours of February 14th, 1981, have heard a policy was introduced some weeks before the blaze, of locking at least three of the six exits until about midnight on disco nights to prevent people letting friends in from inside.

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Mr Butterly, under cross-examination by Mr O’Higgins for a fourth day, maintained his position that all exits were open from 11.30pm on the night of the blaze, and he knew this because head doorman, the late Thomas Kennan, had told him “everything is okay” around this time.

Mr O’Higgins asked why, in his statement to gardaí in October 1981, he had omitted mentioning the policy of locking exits until about midnight.

“I was telling them the head doorman opened the doors. Which I still believe and very much believe,” said Mr Butterly.

“But you didn’t tell them that any of the doors were locked [earlier in the night]. Why didn’t you tell the guards that?” asked Mr O’Higgins.

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“They didn’t ask me. I just wanted to make sure they knew the doors were unlocked at the time of the fire.”

“What is significant is that you didn’t tell them there was a policy of locking doors. You didn’t tell them doors were locked. You didn’t explain how the doors were unlocked . . . That’s not . . . by oversight. You omitted that deliberately,” said Mr O’Higgins.

“Well you can say I omitted it deliberately. I disagree with you,” said Mr Butterly.

Mr O’Higgins asked why he had told gardaí the policy of draping chains over exits’ pushbars had been in place for three weeks, when it had been policy for years. This was “self-serving, it was untrue and it was said for a particular purpose”, said counsel.

“What purpose?,” asked Mr Butterly.

“To mislead the guards into thinking this was all something that occurred three weeks ago when it had been happening for a very long time.”

“No. I didn’t mislead the guards.”

Following a series of questions about how Mr Butterly had directed Mr Kennan on implementing the new exit policy; why he was so confident Mr Kennan had opened all exits at 11.30pm; and, about conversations about the status of the doors in the immediate aftermath of the blaze, Mr O’Higgins said answers were “contradictory” and “vague”.

“I am going to suggest to you the reason why your instructions to Mr Kennan originally are so vague, the reasons about why your account as to how the doors were opened is also vague and completely contradictory, and the reason why you’re so vague about the conversations you had after the event is because they are not founded on truth.”

“Are you saying I am telling lies?” asked Mr Butterly.

“Yes, I am.”

“I am not telling lies.”

Mr O’Higgins said Dublin Corporation had “attempted” to “keep [him] right” on exit doors “and you completely ignored them”.

Correspondence from the corporation to Mr Butterly’s late father, Patrick Butterly, dated January 23rd, 1981, was read. It warned unless “assurances that the exit ways are immediately available at all times when public are on the premises [are provided] it will be necessary to institute proceedings”.

Replying on January 27th, 1981, Eamon Butterly said: “I personally take great care to ensure all exits are clear . . . I assure you all exits will be kept clear when the public are on the premises.”

Mr O’Higgins asked how he could make such assurances when exits were not being made “immediately available” until midnight.

“I made them available, all exits available by Tom Kennan at 11.30pm on the night of the fire,” said Mr Butterly.

“You were locking exits.”

“I wasn’t locking any exits.”

“You were running the place, Mr Butterly . . . The Corpo attempted to keep you right and you completely ignored them and continued to make exits not immediately available.”

“I don’t agree with you.”

“All right.”

Finally, Mr O’Higgins asked Mr Butterly whether on the night of February 13th, 1981, he would have done anything differently.

“In my life, I would never got involved in converting that factory into a nightclub. I’d have knocked it “down and built a new one”, he answered.

He continues his evidence on Friday.