Terry Prone: The day the truth burst, after 43 years of constant suffering for the Stardust families

The unlawful killing verdict from the Stardust inquests has proven to everyone what the victims' families had always known, writes Terry Prone

18th Apr 2024
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Originally published in the Irish Examiner.

A dreary hotel room. Eleven days after the Stardust fire. Parents. Grandparents. Sisters. Brothers. Arriving for a meeting I had been asked to facilitate.

They later became a forceful and relentless group, but that afternoon, they were individuals with nothing in common but agony. Some were angry. Some were trying to mind a weeping parent. Some had their pain muffled by GP-administered Valium. One or two of the older ones had self-anaesthetised using alcohol.

There was not a hope of a shared set of objectives coming out of the meeting. One thing that was clear was that — even back then before social media — some of the smart siblings of dead teenagers and 20-year-olds had an acute sense of the need to blame.

They named people without fear, since they were in private session and even if journalists had been present, none of them in their right mind would print or broadcast the accusations.

What began to emerge from the scattered contributions was an awareness that the horror required accountability. It was a kind of natural process.

Matching that awareness was an eerily prescient understanding that if the people being named and blamed in the meeting didn’t get nailed, blame would shift and fasten on to their dead brothers, sisters and friends. As it did.

Not because those blamed in that meeting fed media with possibilities, but because location of the bodies led to wild supposition: “Maybe this one had been smoking and thrown away a butt that was still alight.”

Long before the phrase “urban legend” was common currency, and long before the internet could have facilitated conspiracy theories, conspiracy theories grew around the Stardust story like weeds, along with the myths about entrepreneurial unnamed heroes who hijacked trucks and drove them through the chains locking a particular entrance.

The relatives at the hotel meeting shared the myths and the suspicions and the conviction that whoever else might have caused the fire, their dead relative would never have done so. However, they also shared a baffled conviction that, because they could not hire high-level lawyers, they and theirs would lose out.

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