I tried to get Stephen out of hut blaze but I couldn't - pal of tragic boy speaks
THE traumatised friend of a 12-year-old boy who perished in a suspected arson attack has today told how he had to smash his way out of their hut after it was engulfed in flames.
He now hopes that the arrest of the main suspect in the case yesterday will finally bring justice for Stephen Hughes Connors, who died of smoke inhalation after the horrific fire in September 2001.
Stephen's friend said the last thing he heard from Stephen was him coughing as dense smoke filled their hut in Tallaght, and how repeated efforts to drag him from the inferno were all in vain.
There was a development in the case yesterday when gardai arrested the suspect, who is in his 50s, at Mountjoy Prison and brought him to Tallaght Garda Station for questioning.
The boys were camping in the makeshift hut when they were engulfed in flames shortly before 5am on September 1, 2001, at Rossfield Avenue in the Brookfield area of Tallaght.
Now aged 24, Stephen's pal broke his silence and told the Herald how he and Stephen were "the best of pals for nearly 10 years" when he was 14 and Stephen was just 12 and they slept the night in the hut.
"I made the hut myself, out of pallets and doors and old banister rails and things," said Stephen's pal.
"I woke up and it was pitch black and I heard Stephen coughing I just started banging on the sides of it until I got out," said Stephen's friend.
"I thought Stephen was right behind me, and I climbed over a fence and looked back for him but he wasn't there. So I jumped back down and cut myself on the fencing and then started pulling at the hut trying to lift the roof off but I wasn't able to do it," he remembered.
"There were three men who came along then and they were trying too, but their runners started melting with the heat and everything and it wasn't until the fire brigade arrived and put out the flames that they were able to take Stephen out," he explained sadly.
Still living near the scene of the fire, the man said the blaze was one of three tragedies that blighted his young life within a space of just 15 months.
"My mother had died of a heart attack, then 10 months later was the fire, and five months after that my father took his own life," he explained.
"It all wrecked my life. I was brought up by my sister and we are very close now as a result," he added.
"I hope Stephen gets a bit of justice from this (arrest)."