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Tuesday 12 December 2017

Rescuers 'couldn't open car doors' in pier tragedy

The jeep that slipped into Lough Swilly in Buncrana, Co Donegal
The jeep that slipped into Lough Swilly in Buncrana, Co Donegal

A pre-inquest hearing into the Buncrana Pier tragedy, in which five members of the same family drowned, has heard that first responders could not open the car's doors.

Sean McGrotty, his sons and two other relatives died when their Audi Q7 went into Lough Swilly in Co Donegal on March 20, 2016.

A full inquest into the tragedy is due to take place at Buncrana Courthouse in November.

However, a pre-evidential hearing yesterday heard how a report by Volkswagen Ireland had disclosed that first responders couldn't open the car doors when they arrived at the scene.

The issue was raised by barrister Keith O'Grady, who is acting on behalf of insurer Allianz for the late Mr McGrotty.

Unusual

Mr O'Grady addressed yesterday's hearing and outlined a number of issues he wanted to address before the formal inquest takes place.

He pointed to the report by VW Ireland, in which he said it was disclosed by the company that first responders could not open the Audi's doors.

He said he would be fully reviewing this report as well as reports by Donegal County Council into its piers and slipways and others by the Road Safety Authority and the Irish Water Safety Authority.

Mr O'Grady asked coroner Denis McCauley to release all 57 draft witness depositions, calling the case "most unfortunate and unusual".

"We have to ensure that something like this never happens again," he added.

Jodie Lee Daniels
Jodie Lee Daniels
Ruth Daniels
Drowning victims Sean McGrotty and his sons Mark and Evan. Photo: PA

"The when and where will not be an issue but the how and surrounding circumstances will be an issue here.

"I feel this is a case if ever there was a case for a more extensive disclosure than you may be prepared to grant.

"I need to hear what the people on the scene heard, saw and what the condition of the place was."

Mr McCauley said he was usually quite liberal with allowing depositions into an inquest.

However, he said he did not feel the added depositions could provide anything else.

"I accept all the case law but I feel you will not be prejudiced by not having these statements," the coroner said.

He said he would review all depositions again and come back to Mr O'Grady if he felt they merited being included.

The coroner also gave a suggested running order for the inquest, which will be held on November 22 and 23.

Baby

As well as 12 deposition statements, Mr McCauley said he would hear evidence of the post-mortems and the reports by Donegal County Council, Water Safety Ireland, the Road Safety Authority and Volkswagen Ireland.

Michael Staines, solicitor for Donegal County Council, confirmed that it had prepared a detailed independent report into its slipways and piers, which was now ready.

Five members of the extended McGrotty family died in the tragedy.

Those who lost their lives were Sean McGrotty, his sons Mark (11) and eight-year-old Evan, his mother-in-law Ruth Daniels and her daughter Jodie-Lee Tracey (15).

Mr McGrotty's baby Rionaghac-Ann was saved when her father passed her out of the window to local man Davitt Walsh, who had gone to the family's aid.

Members of the McGrotty and Daniels families were not present at yesterday's hearing.

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