Doors were bolted at blaze deaths hostel, inquest told

BOLTED doors on a west Belfast hostel where two homeless men died in a fire could have led to an even bigger loss of life, it was claimed yesterday.

John Leckey, city coroner, expressed major concerns after fire chiefs were unable to confirm when the last safety checks were carried out on the Morning Star shelter.

The inquest into the deaths of Hugo Brannigan, 62, and James 'Jimbo' Irvine, 32, in February 2002 heard the front door of the building was padlocked when the blaze broke out.

Another potential escape route a back door was also locked.

With Mr Irvine forced to sleep on the ground floor as his leg was in plaster, Mr Leckey insisted it was almost impossible for him to make it to a first floor exit during the emergency.

He said: "We have seen reports from the continent where night clubs have gone up in flames, doors have been bolted and people unable to get out causing tremendous loss of life.

"That potential might have been in there in this hostel."

His assessment was backed up by David McDonald, a firefighter who attended the blaze.

Investigations have found the fire was most likely caused by an un-extinguished cigarette setting bedclothes alight. Mr Leckey adjourned to find out what checks had been carried out on the hostel which had been run on Divis Street by the Catholic charity the Legion of Mary.

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