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Greenvale Hotel manslaughter case returned for trial five years after tragedy

Cookstown Greenvale Hotel deaths
Lauren Bullock, 17, Morgan Barnard, 17, and Connor Currie, 16

Five years after three teenagers died during an event at the Greenvale Hotel, the owner and a self-employed member of security staff have finally been returned for trial following protracted legal argument.

Lauren Bullock and Morgan Barnard, both 17, and Connor Currie, 16, died as a result of a crush involving hundreds of people queued to enter the hotel on St Patrick’s Day 2019.

Michael McElhatton (57) of Rock Road, Moneymore and Seamus Mitchell (45) of Mullan Road, Coagh are jointly charged with unlawfully killing the three teenagers.

As a director of the company Tobin Limited, McElhatton is further charged with failing to ensure that non-employed persons were not exposed to health and safety risks.

Mitchell is accused of being a self-employed person who failed to ensure persons were not exposed to risk.

The case itself first reached Dungannon Magistrates’ Court on December 2, 2022, at which the case was scheduled to be returned straight to trial but numerous adjournments followed on the part of the defence.

In a ruling today (Wedesnday) District Judge Michael Ranaghan said the victims lost their lives from compression asphyxia caused by crowd crush and “the Prosecution say Mr McElhatton failed to protect persons not in his employment and Mr Mitchell is said to be self-employed and, in that capacity, failed to conduct his responsibilities to others”.

Mr McElhatton as a director of Tobin Limited (against which criminal proceedings are not challenged) was “the controlling mind and acted in a hands-on capacity within the company and is contended personally and criminally liable. Mr Mitchell likewise as self-employed is, the prosecution say, criminally liable”.

The event was sold as a “queue-skip” system whereby bus-operators organise the trip and patrons pay them to be transported and provided with a ticket which gets them into the venue without having to queue.

The judge continued: “To describe the event as a tragedy is an understatement. Conor, Lauren and Morgan lost their lives that night … I hope using their names gives them a voice in these proceedings. They went out to have fun as teenagers do. I cannot comprehend the pain (family and friends) are suffering. I hope they know I am aware of the loss they have suffered. The outcome of that day was horrible for all parties.

He continued: “Mr McElhatton and Mr Mitchell did not mean to cause any harm. That is not the prosecution case. It is a breach of duty-of-care to Conor, Lauren and Morgan and the prosecution say they are criminally liable and there was a fundamental failure to ensure the safety of persons.”

The defence argued the prosecution had failed to establish their clients had failed in their duty of care and therefore criminally liable.

However, Judge Ranaghan noted there had been issues at the Greenvale Hotel before, which must have been known, and the prosecution contend the event was oversold on “queue-skip” tickets alone; there was also no Risk Assessment and insufficient door staff on duty.

It is contended 56 safety breaches were found against both McElhatton and Mitchell.

A further 21 are alleged solely against Mitchell.

Judge Ranaghan found, as matters stand, McElhatton and Mitchell owed an existing duty-of-care under their respective roles and “there is a sufficiency of evidence to put before a jury to allow a determination as to whether there is a criminal sanction”.

The committal proceeded with McElhatton and Mitchell speaking only to confirm their identities and that they understood the charges.

They were remanded on £500 bail to appear for arraignment on a date and court venue to be fixed.

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