Northern Ireland news

Buncrana pier tragedy: Davitt Walsh says Stephanie Knox 'has suffered extreme trauma'

Seamus McKinney

A MAN who saved a baby girl in the Buncrana pier tragedy that claimed the lives of five of her family has said he has "utmost respect" for his ex-girlfriend who has made a compensation claim.

Stephanie Knox, from Derry, lodged a claim against the estate of Sean McGrotty, one of the victims, and Donegal county council which owns the pier.

The Irish News understands that at least two other people have also lodged claims for compensation against Mr McGrotty's estate.

Ms Knox was present at the pier in March 2016 when her then boyfriend Davitt Walsh swam out to Mr McGrotty’s sinking car to rescue his baby daughter Ríoghnach, the only survivor.

Mr McGrotty (49), his sons Evan (8) and Mark (12), their grandmother Ruth Daniels (58) and their aunt Jodie Lee Daniels (14) drowned in the tragedy.

Davitt Walsh pictured with his 2016 People of the Year Award

This morning Mr Walsh posted a message on Facebook which read:

"I wish to make a public statement. 

"Firstly I have the utmost respect for Stephanie Knox, Stephanie has suffered extreme trauma since the tragic events of that horrible day in Buncrana. 

"Secondlly I have not given an interview to ANY newspaper or media source. I have been wrongly misquoted, I strongly refute anything that has been printed in my name.

"I have moved on with my life since that day, in the best way that I can. Please respect my privacy."

Ms Knox and Mr Walsh separated several months after the tragedy.

Mr Walsh had been quoted on the Mailonline last night saying he was "not interested in money".

"Stephanie can do whatever she wants but I don't want any money. I just want to get on with my life," he said.

"I did my bit. I saved a child. I risked my life and nearly died. It was a miracle that I came out alive.

"I am struggling to move on. Jesus, how would you feel if you saw five people die? It is not nice. I get nightmares and I am struggling."

Mr Walsh said he was still undergoing counselling and that he believed that Ms James, whose partner, two sons, sister and mother died, should press ahead with her compensation claim.

"Louise has to be compensated obviously," he said.

"She lost her family. I don't think money is ever going to help her. But if she wants money she should have it."

It emerged this week that Mr McGrotty’s 86-year-old father, Noel McGrotty, received a letter shortly before the second anniversary of the tragedy informing him that Ms Knox was claiming against his son’s estate.

The health worker’s solicitor told The Irish News that she did not send the letter but, on legal advice, was making a claim against Donegal county council and Mr McGrotty’s estate for injuries she sustained.

It is understood the letter was sent by the Dublin-based Personal Injuries Assessment Board which deals with non-medical compensation claims in the Republic.

Noel McGrotty has spoken to the Independent and said he was concerned that there would be a public backlash against Ms Knox.

“I do not know the wee girl but the only thing I’m afraid of now is that the public opinion might be damaging her,” he told the newspaper.

“My family doesn’t want that. The newspapers aren’t thinking of the consequences of this...The wee girl must have suffered psychological shock and I can understand that.

“This is in the hands of our solicitors. Life has to go on, I’m that type of person.”

In a post on social media earlier in the week, Ms Knox confirmed that her claim was in relation to “post traumatic stress” suffered as a result of what she witnessed.

She said she had not considered making a claim until gardaí informed her that others had done so.

Ms Knox said she never believed that the process would involve making a claim against Mr McGrotty’s family, assuming it would involve Donegal county council and an insurance company.

“I have been to see my solicitor to clear things and make sure that I was not claiming from an 86-year-old man or the family,” she said.

She also told Independent.ie she never intended to hurt the family.

“I’m under so much stress and heartache and I would love it to just blow over,” she said.

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