College director guilty over deaths of students in fire

Sara Gibadlo and Dace Zarina

Sara Gibadlo and Dace Zarina

A court in Belgium has convicted two men in connection with the deaths of two Irish students in a fire in 2014.

Ex-GAA star Malachy Vallely - director of the Irish College in Leuven - was handed a one-year suspended sentence by a court in Belgium, who had faced charges including renting accommodation which did not meet regulations.

Ms Zarina, who was from Longford, and Ms Gibaldo, from Galway, were both second-year students at Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology and were doing a work placement at the Leuven Institute.

Twenty-two-year-old Latvian national Dace Zarina was one of two women who died in the blaze at an apartment in the Belgian city of Leuven in January 2014.

It was said the fire at the house started when another Irish student, Shane Bracken, fell asleep after lighting a cigarette.

He was also fined €600, RTE News reports.

The court also heard that there was a number of fire safety issues at the property, including a lack of fire alarms and empty fire extinguishers.

During the hearing in June, prosecutors described Vallely as a "slum landlord" and said both he and the institute were guilty of neglect.

Speaking outside of court, he said: "The families of the late Sara Gibaldo and Dace Zarina wish to thank Belgian police and Leuven fire services for their efforts to investigate the circumstances of the deaths of their beloved young girls".

"Dace and Sara were handsome bright young students with vast promise and potential".

"Unfortunately a lot of questions remain, how did two young and vulnerable students from GMIT end up being placed in what prosecutors have described as 'substandard and inappropriate accommodation?'"

The Leuven Institute was fined €60,000.

"The families hope no other families will have to endure the senseless loss which they have endured".

They were later found dead in an adjoining bathroom. The other had a 38 per cent level of carbon monoxide poisoning.

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