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Wednesday 13 December 2017

Family of fire victim Sara say 'amazing sister' worth more than €6,000 fine

Maggie Gibadlo and her parents Malgorzta and Jozef with a photo of Sara
Maggie Gibadlo and her parents Malgorzta and Jozef with a photo of Sara

The family of a victim of the fire at a student residence in the Belgian city of Leuven are furious at the fine handed to the "slum landlord" who owned the building.

"We just can't comprehend how somebody's life is worth €6,000. Our daughter's life was worth more than that," said Malgorzta Gibadlo, the devastated mother of Sara Gibadlo.

Sara (19) and her friend Dace Zarina (22) were killed in the blaze that ripped through the Irish college residence in 2014.

Two weeks ago, a Belgian court found Malachy Vallely, director of the Leuven Institute for Ireland in Europe and owner of the student accommodation where the young women died, guilty of a responsibility for their deaths.

Justice

He was handed a €6,000 fine and a one-year suspended sentence.

The fire scene
The fire scene

However, Sara's family said that while "some justice" was achieved, the outcome is not what they had hoped for.

"The day after the case, we went down to place some flowers for the girls," said Mrs Gibadlo. "On our way back, we were so shocked to see Malachy Vallely walking in the opposite direction, laughing away and talking on the phone.

"He looked at us but didn't recognise us. He didn't appear for the verdict and the way he is conducting himself, the way he tried to blame others, is heartbreaking and unfair."

"Sara had her whole future planned out," said her younger sister, Maggie. "She wanted to finish her course and was really excited to become a primary school teacher as she loved kids.

"She was always smiling and she always knew how to include everyone in a conversation. She was like my mum - I could trust her with my life.

"The more time passes, the more you think about her. I always wonder if she would have got married and where she would have lived.

"I feel like our family has missed out on so much. She was at the age where she could take me shopping and she would always buy me stuff. She was just an amazing sister."

Mrs Gibadlo said her daughter loved reading.

"She always studied a lot. Everything had to be given 100pc and hard work was the only way she knew," she said.

"We would Skype her every night and she would show us around the accommodation. She told us they were not allowed to have any electrical appliances except a kettle as there were problems before.

"My mum told her we would find her somewhere else to live, but she didn't want to kick up a fuss."

The family, originally from Poland, live in Oranmore, Co Galway.

Safety

They are appealing for politicians in Belgium and Ireland to take a stand against sub-standard student accommodation.

During Vallely's trial, the court heard there were a host of fire safety issues in the accommodation.

Vallely and the institutes's legal team denied the charges and said local authorities knew how many people lived there.

But the prosecutor said fire safety measures were "completely lacking" and described Vallely as a "slum landlord".

Another student who lived in the house, Shane Bracken (22), accidentally started the fire when he fell asleep after lighting a cigarette. He was found guilty of causing involuntary death and received a three-month suspended sentence.

Over the weekend, it emerged that Vallely has cashed in on the property, selling it for €160,000.

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