Former soldier loses appeal over Stardust PTSD claim

A former soldier who sued over post-traumatic stress disorder, allegedly from seeing bodies of some of the 48 victims of the 1981 Stardust fire, has lost his Supreme Court appeal against the dismissal of his action.

Former soldier loses appeal over Stardust PTSD claim

Peter McGarry was a soldier, aged in his 20s, when he was assigned from Cathal Brugha barracks to help retrieve bodies from the fire in Artane.

In proceedings initiated in 1995 against the Defence Forces and State, he sued over PTSD allegedly suffered after helping place disfigured remains of young victims in an army tent set up as a makeshift morgue.

The defendants successfully applied to the High Court in 2010 to halt his case, over delays in initiating and advancing proceedings.

A three-judge Supreme Court yesterday dismissed the appeal by Mr McGarry, now aged 62.

Mr Justice John MacMenamin, giving the court’s judgment, said it had some sympathy for Mr McGarry and welcomed that costs were not being pursued.

Mr McGarry had claimed, immediately after the night of the Stardust fire, he had difficulty sleeping and suffered flashbacks. He went to an army doctor who gave him Valium, excused him from duty for a week, and referred him to an army psychiatrist who diagnosed reactive depression.

Mr Justice MacMenamin said Mr McGarry was also described in psychiatric reports as involved in a serious fracas involving army recruits, and perhaps civilians, while on border duty. Mr McGarry believed that incident happened in 1981 after Stardust. Army records suggested it was 1979.

He left the army in 1981 and worked as a taxi-driver but later sold his taxi plate and spent the money on drink and drugs, the judge said. He was then married with two children but the marriage broke up.

Mr McGarry claimed his life was “in turmoil” between 1981 and 1995 when, after a second suicide attempt, he was sent for counselling and diagnosed with PTSD which he was told related to the Stardust. He later received a number of criminal convictions.

In 1996, he instructed a solicitor to initiate the legal proceedings. After his release from jail in 1999, he resumed work as a hackney driver.

The Supreme Court said there was little information concerning his life from 2000, but it was clear his medical and psychiatric condition had stabilised by 2003.

It was difficult to see how his psychiatric condition could account for delays from 2003 in advancing his case, said Mr Justice MacMenamin.

Mr McGarry is now unemployed, he noted. While factors surrounding his life evoked sympathy, the issue for the court was whether the case could lawfully proceed due to the delays.

Mr McGarry was diagnosed with PTSD in May 1995 and his case was initiated in October 1996, he noted. A statement of claim was delivered in October 1998 followed by notices of intention to proceed in 1999 and 2005. A notice of trial was served in May 2009, after which the defendants applied to halt the case.

The delays had not been explained and were “inordinate and inexcusable”, said the judge. The delays had prejudiced the defendants’ right to a fair trial due to factors including the deaths of army and medical witnesses. The balance of justice lay in dismissing the case, the court ruled.

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