Northern Ireland

Council urged to supply health and safety policies after Co Antrim bonfire death

John Steele died after falling from a bonfire in Larne, Co Antrim
John Steele died after falling from a bonfire in Larne, Co Antrim

Mid and East Antrim Council has been asked to supply health and safety policies around loyalist bonfires to a coroner ahead of an inquest into the death of a man in Larne.

John Steele, 37, died following an incident at a pyre in the Antiville area of the town on July 9 2022.

It happened on land owned by the council, but the bonfire was built by the local community.

The bonfire, which was estimated to be over 50ft tall, was taken down and the remnants later set alight at a vigil for the window cleaner and father-of-two.

Bonfire fall
The bonfire was dismantled after the fatal fall on the Antiville estate in Larne, Co Antrim (Liam McBurney/PA)

The fires are traditionally ignited on the eve of the “Twelfth of July” – a day when members of Protestant loyal orders parade to commemorate the Battle of Boyne in 1690.

The battle, which unfolded at the Boyne river north of Dublin, saw Protestant King William of Orange defeat Catholic King James II to secure a Protestant line of succession to the British Crown.

The vast majority of bonfires are built by local communities.

In the past, there have been attempts by Belfast City Council to stop some bonfires built on land it owns where it had concerns.

In 2021, it hired contractors to remove a pyre at the Bloomfield Walkway site in the east of the city, an action which sparked disorder.

An inquest is set to start into Mr Steele’s death on December 15 at Banbridge court house.

At a pre-inquest review on Tuesday, Coroner Joe McCrisken said at this stage the council was listed as an attendee, and not as an interested person.

John Steele funeral
The coffin of John Steele is carried by mourners up Churchill Road, past the remnants of the bonfire from which he fell, following his funeral service at his house in Larne, County Antrim (Brian Lawless/PA)

The council can apply to become an interested person in the proceedings.

That status would allow the council to respond within the inquest to any potential criticism of their policies.

A witness list and statements from witnesses have been prepared, and footage from police body worn cameras has been requested.

Mr McCrisken asked for the council to supply him with copies of any health and safety policies regarding bonfires in general, and particularly the bonfire at which Mr Steele died, and any risk assessments or event applications.

He also requested any other potentially relevant information, such as communication with the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service or other agencies regarding the safety and risk assessment of the bonfire.

Solicitor for the council Elaine Kirk said she believed that it would not take “very long” to provide that information, “because of the lack of” it.

“Risk assessments are not something the council carry out so we’ll be able to address your queries relatively quickly,” she said.

“I will have to take instructions in relation to becoming a properly interested party.”

Mr McCrisken responded: “It might be preferable at this stage just to simply do that on a provisional basis so it allows you to engage with the inquest in a way that might assist the council.”

Mr Steele’s mother Jackie also attended the hearing via videolink.

Another pre-inquest review hearing is set to take place in November.