Family of Belfast man killed in Stardust tragedy speak out

Sister of James (Jim) Millar, Laura Millar at the Coroners Court inquiry into the Stardust tragedy at The Rotunda Pillar Room on Parnell Square, Dublin
Jim Millar's sister Laura Millar at the Coroners Court inquiry into the Stardust tragedy -Credit:Gareth Chaney/ Collins Photos

The nephew of a man killed in the Stardust tragedy has said that the verdict delivered in the inquest into the deaths has brought closure to their family.

21-year-old Jim Millar from Twinbrook in West Belfast was killed alongside his friend Bobby Hillick in the blaze which broke out at the Stardust nightclub in Dublin in the early hours of Valentine's Day 1981.

An inquest into the 48 deaths which occurred that night returned a verdict that they had been unlawfully killed.

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Speaking to Belfast Live, David Bennett described how his uncle Jim was a "happy-go-lucky" man who enjoyed life.

"I was 18 months old when the fire happened but from growing up and finding out more about Jim at the inquest, I feel like I know him quite well," he said.

"He was in the Merchant Navy and wasn't long home when my grandfather sent him down to Dublin to get him away from the Troubles and everything that was going on in the area."

While in Dublin with his friend Bobby Hillick, Jim was engaged to his fianceé Marion and had returned home to Twinbrook for Christmas when his sister Laura and her friend Patsy had decided that they would travel down to Dublin to see him on St Valentines weekend and that they would go to the Stardust.

"Mum and Patsy were due to go down to Dublin that weekend but Mum had been offered a flat in Twinbrook and moving in happened to coincide that weekend and so they cancelled their plans," David said.

As Laura and Patsy had cancelled their planned trip to Dublin, Jim's fiancé travelled up to Belfast and a few of his friends decided to work that weekend instead of going out.

Jim and Bobby changed their minds and decided to go to the disco anyhow. When the fire hit the news the next day, his fiancé contacted his family to tell them not to worry as he had said he wasn't going to go.

Later that night, the police arrived at their Twinbrook home to inform Jim's father that he had died in the fire.

"Jim's death destroyed my grandmother and grandfather. Nobody should lose a child and they always believed that they should go before their child. It also destroyed my mum and my uncle Martin," David told us.

"When he was home that Christmas, my uncle Martin had had a fight with Jim and the last words Martin said to Jim was I wish you were dead. He never seen him again after that and it destroyed him."

About 800 people had been attending a Valentine's Day disco when the fire started. Jurors found it began in the hot press of the main bar and was caused by an electrical fault. The jury found the height of the nightclub ceiling and materials in the bar, including carpet tiles on the wall, were found to have contributed to the blaze.

Lack of visibility, lack of knowledge of the building and thick, toxic smoke were found to have made it more difficult for people to leave.

In addition, the heat of the fire, speed of its spread, failure of the emergency lighting system and lack of preparedness of staff also played a part in the tragedy.

Emergency exits were locked, chained or otherwise obstructed and victims were impeded in their ability to exit.

Reflecting on what the verdict means for their family, David said that it has brought them closure.

"They have cleared the names of all of the victims. They are no longer labelled as arsonists, they are now labelled as victims.

"The last inquest returned a verdict of probable arson and it has always had a stigma and raised questions if it was one of the attendees who had started the fire. This has cleared their names and that was the main goal of the inquest."

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