Fire service apology 'not enough', says McCloskey widow

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Image caption,
Joe McCloskey died fighting a fire at a hotel in 2003

The widow of a fireman who died after falling through the roof of a burning hotel has said an apology from the fire service does not go far enough.

Joe McCloskey, 50, died at the Gorteen House Hotel in Limavady in 2003.

He died in a hotel storeroom, after the roof he was working on collapsed, dropping him into the flames below.

His widow Marie has received a letter from Northern Ireland's chief fire officer "fully and unreservedly" apologising to the family.

"The letter to me personally doesn't mean anything," said Mrs McCloskey, from Dungiven.

"I know for the sake of the children and my grandchildren it will, but it's sad that we have had to fight for 15 years to find out what happened to Joe."

The mother-of-five added: "I don't see any respect for Joe in anything the fire service has done.

"I never want to hear Joe's name in the same sentence as the fire service, because they have shown no respect."

Although there were investigations into the death by both the fire service and the police, they failed to establish who gave the order to Mr McCloskey to go onto the roof.

Nobody was ever disciplined over the incident, which happened on Halloween night.

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Thousands of people lined the streets of Dungiven and shops and businesses closed as a mark of respect to Mr McCloskey during his funeral Mass

In 2016, Northern Ireland's attorney general sent the McCloskey family a letter naming the former senior officer who he believes ordered Joe McCloskey on to the roof.

"All we wanted to know after we got their statements and the inquest, we asked who gave the order and we're still asking to this day, the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle, but we want the fire service actually to come out and answer," said Mrs McCloskey.

The fire service said it wrote to Mrs McCloskey in May.

It said it offered "an unreserved apology, for failings following the death of leading firefighter Joe McCloskey who tragically lost his life in the line of duty at an incident at the Gorteen House Hotel in Limavady in 2003".

'Joe was the rock'

Mrs McCloskey described the years without her husband as "purgatory" and said her children had missed having their father for special events in their lives like weddings and the births of his grandchildren.

"Joe was the rock and foundation of this home," she said.

"It has deprived me of - Joe used to laugh and say our golden years - there's things we had planned to do which we'll never do.

"I'm lost without him."

In 2017 then health minister Michelle O'Neill established a review into Mr McCloskey's death.

Image caption,
Marie McCloskey said her five children, including her son Seamus, had missed having their father around for special events in their lives

She said the outcome of the review was a vindication of the family's "determination and persistence".

"They have fought a long campaign for the full circumstances of his death to be made public," she said.

"It should not have taken so long to get to this stage but I hope it can bring them some degree of comfort.

"The recommendations must also be implemented in full to ensure that lessons from this tragedy are learned and that we never again witness a repeat of the failings in this tragic case."

The fire service said it "accepted the findings of the review and has revised and amended policies in line with review recommendations".