Leuven college and director found guilty of GMIT students’ deaths

GMIT students Sara Gibadlo (left,19) of Oranmore, Co Galway, and Dace Zarina (22), from Co Longford, who died in a fire at a residence linked to a college in Leuven, Belgium.

GMIT students Sara Gibadlo (left,19) of Oranmore, Co Galway, and Dace Zarina (22), from Co Longford, who died in a fire at a residence linked to a college in Leuven, Belgium.

An Irish college in Belgium and its director have been both found guilty over an apartment fire that killed two GMIT students in 2014.

The Leuven Correctional Court found that the Leuven Institute for Ireland in Europe and its director, Malachy Vallely, were responsible for the deaths of Sara Gibadlo (19 ) from Oranmore and Dace Zarina (22 ) from Longford, who died in a fire at a house in the university town of Leuven in January 2014.

Mr Vallely was given a one-year suspended sentence and fined €1,000 in relation to the fire with the Leuven Institue receiving a fine of €10,000.

The court also found 22-year-old student Shane Bracken from Co Offaly guilty of causing involuntary deaths due to a cigarette and sentenced him to a suspended three-months jail term and fined him €600.

The fire began in the early hours of January 31 and an Irish student in a neighbouring room, Louise McCormack, alerted the two women when the fire broke out.

Ms McCormack then fled back to her room and managed to escape through her window on to the roof.

The court heard Ms Gibadlo and Ms Zarina were later found dead in the adjoining bathroom.

The two women were second year students taking a Bachelors of business degree in hotel and catering management at GMIT and were on a 30-week Erasmus placement at the time of the fire.

They were living in a building owned by Malachy Vallely and while the women did not pay rent, he was paid by Leuven College to house them.

During the trial Malachy Vallaly was accused of using his apartment as a “cash cow” by renting it back to the college for 23 years and described as a “slum landlord” by the prosecutor.

The court heard that fire safety in the apartment was “completely lacking” and accused both Vallely and the Leuven Institute of multiple fire safety breaches and overcrowding of the residences.

Legal counsel for Vallely and the Institute had denied this and the charges alleging that Ms Gibadlo and Ms Zarina may have died because they were drunk on the night of the fire and did not react quickly enough once the fire began.

Lawyers for the victims’ families said after the hearing on Tuesday the court had clearly found that not to be the case.

The court will rule on the issue of damages on November 14.

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