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Sunday 25 June 2017

Prosecutor calls for 'slum landord' to be jailed after fire deaths

Dace Zarina died in January 2014
Dace Zarina died in January 2014

Two Irish students died in a bathroom at their rented accommodation after a fire, a Belgian court has heard.

Dace Zarina (22) and Sara Gibadlo (19) died when a blaze ripped through the building in Leuven where they shared a top-floor room in January 2014.

The prosecutor asked the court to impose a one-year jail term on a director of the Irish College in Leuven in connection with the fatal fire.

Smoked

Ms Zarina, from Longford and Ms Gibadlo, from Galway, were students at Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology and were on a work placement at the Leuven Institute.

At a court hearing in Belgium yesterday, Malachy Vallely, a director of the Leuven Institute for Ireland in Europe, and an Irish student Shane Bracken (22) were named as defendants.

Mr Bracken, who was charged with involuntary death due to a lack of caution, said he had gone to bed after a night out. He told police he had smoked in his room but could not remember if he had done so that night.

Lawyers for the Gibadlo family said Mr Bracken's cigarette was the only explanation for the cause of the fire.

The prosecutor said Mr Vallely was a "slum landlord" who used his apartment to earn money by renting it back to the institute and that fire safety measures were "completely lacking".

Lawyers for both Mr Vallely, and the Irish College, denied either party should be blamed for the deaths and said Vallely was not a "slum landlord".

Two lawyers suggested the victims may have died because they were unable to respond quickly enough to an alarm, as they had consumed alcohol.

Louise McCormack, an Irish student sleeping in an adjacent room, alerted the two women when the blaze started in the early hours. She ran back to her room and escaped through her window onto the roof.

The bodies of Ms Zarina and Ms Gibadlo were found in the bathroom. Their bedroom window was too high for them to escape through. Eight other students escaped.

The court was told there was no smoke alarm in the top-floor bedroom in which the two ­students died. There were two fire extinguishers but one was empty and the other was 10 years old.

The court adjourned until September 5 when a verdict will be given.

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