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Stardust families to bring victim photos to inquest hearing

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Survivor Antoinette Keegan. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Survivor Antoinette Keegan. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Survivor Antoinette Keegan. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Relatives of victims of the Stardust disaster will gather at the Coroner's Court in Dublin at Wednesday's pre-inquest hearing with photographs of their loved-ones to put human faces to the numbers.

The families had battled for decades for new inquests into the deaths of their 48 relatives in a fire which broke out during a Valentine's Night disco in the Artane premises in 1981, and learned in August that they will begin next year.

Brief inquests were held into the deaths at the time but were mainly concerned with establishing the medical cause of death of the victims.

Coroners' courts have powers to investigate the wider circumstances that lead to deaths.

The families of the Stardust victims have for years asked for these powers to be utilised.

Their campaign was boosted by the Hillsborough families in the UK succeeding in their battle to have fresh inquests into the football match disaster which claimed 96 lives in 1989.

The hearing will be held on Wednesday, and survivor Antoinette Keegan, who lost sisters Mary and Martina in the blaze, said she and other families will attend.

Faces

"From the night of the fire, when my sisters were bagged and tagged, they and the other victims were assigned numbers," she said.

"Martina was known as number seven, and Mary was known as number 21.

"Our loved ones have been numbers for too long. On Wednesday we will put names and faces to those numbers. They were people. They were our family.

"They were my sisters and I loved them. The State took their identities away from us."

Antoinette said the photographs will be given to their solicitors, so that they can be identified in the Coroner's Court when the medical cause of death is being read out.

"I think it's very important to humanise those who died.

"We had to put up a fight for this, and I firmly believe that fight led to the death of my father and mother too.

She said she looks forward to giving evidence at the inquests.

"It's with me every day. The nightmare and hurt is always there like it was yesterday.

"I can only sleep at night with the light on and the radio or TV going, because the last thing I remember in the Stardust was the lights going out and the music stopping.

"I only found out weeks later that my sisters were dead and buried."