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A Labour MP has been suspended from the party after she was accused of making “racist” comments about the chancellor.

Rupa Huq was administratively suspended pending an investigation after she claimed that Kwasi Kwarteng was “superficially” black.

The MP for Ealing Central and Acton made the remarks about the UK’s first black chancellor at a Labour conference fringe event on Monday entitled “What’s Next for Labour’s Agenda on Race?”.

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After her suspension, Ms Huq apologised for her “ill-judged” comments.

“I have today contacted Kwasi Kwarteng to offer my sincere and heartfelt apologies for the comments I made at yesterday’s Labour conference fringe meeting,” she posted on social media.

“My comments were ill-judged and I wholeheartedly apologise to anyone affected.”

Jake Berry, the Conservative Party chairman, had condemned Ms Huq’s “vile” comments before her suspension and urged Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, to remove the whip.

Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, told Ms Huq to apologise and take “immediate action” over the “completely unacceptable” remarks.

‘You wouldn’t know he is black’

In audio posted online by the Guido Fawkes website, Ms Huq says of Mr Kwarteng: “Superficially he is a black man.

“He went to Eton, I think, he went to a very expensive prep school, all the way through, the top schools in the country.

“If you hear him on the Today programme, you wouldn’t know he is black.”

Labour said: “We condemn the remarks and urge her to withdraw them and apologise.”

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‘Appalling comments’

In a letter to Sir Keir on Tuesday, Mr Berry said the Labour leader must take action against Ms Huq.

Expressing his “serious concerns”, he wrote: “During an event organised by the British Future and Black Equity Organisation and attended by shadow secretary of state for women and equalities Anneliese Dodds, Rupa Huq made a number of racist comments about the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Kwasi Kwarteng.”

He continued: “Sunder Katwala, the event chair, was forced to respond to her appalling comments about the chancellor by saying his Conservative views ‘doesn’t make him not black… and I think the Labour Party has to be really careful’.

“I trust you will join me in unequivocally condemning these comments as nothing less than racist and that the Labour whip will be withdrawn from Rupa Huq as a consequence.”

In a tweet, Mr Katwala said Ms Dodds was no longer at the meeting when the comments were made.

David Lammy, the shadow foreign secretary, told the BBC that the remarks were “unfortunate” and that Ms Huq should “stand those comments down”.

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David Lammy on Rupa Huq’s comments

Also speaking to the broadcaster, Ms Rayner said: “She should apologise for those comments.

“For me those comments are completely unacceptable.

“I think Rupa needs to reflect on what she has said and she needs to take immediate action.”

Sajid Javid, the Conservative former health secretary, said he was “appalled and saddened” by the comments.

“Rather than give encouragement to racists and people who seek to divide us, she should know better,” he posted on social media.

“Not too late for her to show that she does.”

The suspension came shortly after Sir Keir finished his conference speech, which he used to argue now is a “Labour moment” for the party to provide the leadership the nation “so desperately needs”.

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Iran grounds flights across country after reports of explosions




Iran grounds flights across country after reports of explosions

Iran has grounded commercial flights across parts of the country after reports of explosions.

State media also said Iran fired its air defence systems after reports of blasts near the city of Isfahan.

It remained unclear if the country was under attack.

But tensions remain high in the wider Middle East after Iran’s missile and drone attack on Israel over the weekend.

The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment, AP reported.

Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency said its air defences fired across several provinces – but did not elaborate on what caused the batteries to fire.

State television noted a “loud noise” in the area.

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A major airbase for the Iranian military is in Isfahan, as well as sites associated with its nuclear program.

Iranian state TV said its nuclear facilities remain unharmed, Reuters news agency reported.

This breaking news story is being updated and more details will be published shortly.

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Deaths of 48 people in 1981 fire at Dublin’s Stardust nightclub were unlawful killing, jury rules




Deaths of 48 people in 1981 fire at Dublin's Stardust nightclub were unlawful killing, jury rules

The deaths of 48 people in the worst fire in the history of Ireland have been ruled by a jury as unlawful killing.

A jury at Dublin District Coroner’s Court delivered majority verdicts on the victims of the 1981 Stardust nightclub fire in the city on Thursday.

The venue in Artane, north Dublin, was packed with around 800 people when the fire broke out in the early hours of Valentine’s Day.

The Stardust fire - Dublin, Ireland in the early hours of 14 February 1981. Some 800 people had attended a disco there, of whom 48 died and 214 were injured as a result of the fire.
The Stardust fire took place in Dublin in the early hours of 14 February 1981. Pic: PA

More than 200 people were injured in the disaster.

Fresh inquests into the deaths, the longest held in Ireland, were ordered by the country’s attorney general in 2019, but only began last year.

Samantha's mother Helena was killed in the fire
Samantha’s mother Helena was killed in the fire

A jury, made up of seven women and five men, delivered the verdict on Thursday after 11 days of deliberation.

Some family members of the victims jumped to their feet and clapped at the verdict, while others were moved to tears as they remained in their seat.

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Others embraced each other as soon as the foreman said “unlawful killing”.

The jury also established that the fire started as a result of an electrical fault in an airing cupboard.

In the ballroom, foam in the seating, the height of the ceiling in an alcove, and carpet tiles on the wall all contributed to the spread of the fire, the jurors found.

Several factors, including lack of visibility because of black smoke, the toxicity of the smoke or the gases, the heat of the fire, the speed of the fire’s spread, lack of staff preparedness and the failure of the emergency lighting system were all factors that impeded the victims in escaping the building.

It was unable to determine when the blaze started but said it was first seen outside the building between 1.20am and 1.40am.

Jurors said the fire was first seen inside the ballroom between 1.35am and 1.40am.

Coroner Dr Myra Cullinane paid tribute to the “persistence and commitment” of the families who had campaigned for fresh inquests.

“To the families I acknowledge the deaths of these 48 young people is a source of ongoing grief to those who loved them and it remains the defining loss of their lives,” she said.

“However, I hope that family members will have taken some solace from the fact that these fresh inquests were held, that the facts surrounding the deaths were examined in detail, that moving testimony was heard from many of those involved in the events of the night and, most importantly, that you the families felt fully involved in proceedings, however difficult it was to hear all of the evidence.

“The fact that these inquests have been held at all is in no small part due to the persistence and commitment of families over the years.

“And, finally, we remember those 48 young people who lost their lives on that fateful night. It is their lives that we’ve sought to vindicate by way of these inquests.”

On Wednesday, the foreman told coroner Myra Cullinane they had been unable to reach a unanimous verdict.

Ms Cullinane said she would accept a simple majority of seven and allowed the jury’s deliberations to continue.

Family members of victims of the Stardust tragedy along with supporters arriving at the Rotunda Foundation in Dublin for the 15th pre-inquest hearing in 2022. Pic: PA
Family members of victims of the Stardust tragedy along with supporters arriving at the Rotunda Foundation in Dublin for the 15th pre-inquest hearing in 2022. Pic: PA

Pat Dunne held a picture of her brother as she remembered the moment her family found out the tragic news
Pat Dunne’s brother died in the tragedy

A tribunal of inquiry set up soon after the fire found arson was the “probable” cause, something the families rejected as it appeared to blame those attending the disco and absolved the club’s owners.

This is despite evidence that exits in the ballroom were locked, chained or otherwise obstructed, which the jury confirmed this afternoon.

They were themselves awarded IR£581,000 compensation by a Dublin court in 1983.

But victims’ relatives kept pushing for a new investigation and, eventually, new inquests were announced, only for legal arguments and wrangling over juror pay to delay proceedings by a further four years.

Relatives of those killed in the Stardust fire gather at the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin ahead of the first day of the inquest. The long-awaited inquest into the deaths of 48 people in the nightclub fire in Dublin will open later. The blaze at the Stardust Ballroom in Artane in the north of the city occurred in the early hours of Valentine's Day 1981. It was the worst fire disaster in the history of the Irish state. Picture date: Tuesday April 25, 2023.
Relatives of those killed in the Stardust fire at the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin ahead of the first day of the inquest. File pic

Ireland’s prime minister, Simon Harris, described the Stardust tragedy as “one of the darkest moments in our history”.

“A heartbreaking tragedy because of the lives that were lost, the families that were changed forever, and the long, drawn-out struggle for justice that followed,” he said.

In a statement after a jury at inquests into the deaths of the 48 people in the Dublin nightclub disaster in 1981 returned a verdict of unlawful killing, Mr Harris remembered those who lost their lives and paid tribute to their families for pursuing truth and justice “to ensure that such a disaster never happens again”.

He said the Irish government will consider the verdict in full, and the recommendations of the jury.

“I want to acknowledge and thank the coroner, and her team and the jurors,” he said.

“48 young people never came home that night, but as Taoiseach I want to say this to their families; You never gave up on justice for them, you never let Ireland forget about them. They were never alone, and our country owes you a great debt for that.”

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Bodies fused together in death: How Stardust was seared into Irish consciousness




Bodies fused together in death: How Stardust was seared into Irish consciousness

It was a night of giddy teenage romance that suddenly turned into Ireland’s worst ever fire disaster. The Stardust inferno killed 48 young people, injured hundreds more and led to a decades-long search for answers and justice.

Around 800 youngsters had made their way to the Stardust, a nightclub housed in a converted factory in the north Dublin suburb of Artane, on the night of 13 February 1981.

An evening of dancing and drinking on the eve of Valentine’s Day was promised. There was even a dancing competition.

Seventeen-year-old Marie Kennedy from nearby Kilbarrack was among the partygoers. “Disco dancing was her really big thing,” recalled her sister Michelle.

“She loved the Bee Gees, The Jackson 5, Leo Sayer and Abba. Her love of music and dancing was the reason she was in the Stardust on that night – she wanted to see the dancing competition.”

George O’Connor was among the 48 young people who didn't make it.
George O’Connor was among the 48 young people who didn’t make it.

George O’Connor was also 17. His mother ironed his shirt while George got his hair just right. His sister Donna remembers “critiquing his outfit and telling him no girl would ask him to dance dressed like he was”.

The night of revelry was passing unremarkably until the small hours of Valentine’s Day.

Suddenly, at around 1.40am, a fire was spotted in a sectioned-off area of the ballroom known as the west alcove.

Witnesses remember hearing a bang

As the alarm was raised, the fire spread at a terrifying pace.

The DJ halted the music and asked people to evacuate. Witnesses remember hearing a bang, and the power failed.

Family members of victims of the Stardust tragedy along with supporters arriving at the Rotunda Foundation in Dublin for the 15th pre-inquest hearing in 2022. Pic: PA
Family members of victims of the Stardust tragedy along with supporters arriving at the Rotunda Foundation in Dublin for the 15th pre-inquest hearing in 2022. Pic: PA

As panicked patrons fought to find exits, molten ceiling material showered down on them in the darkness, which was filling with noxious smoke and fumes.

Survivors reported seeing exit doors chained and locked, adding to the chaos.

The inquest heard that most of the victims were already dead by the time the first fire engines arrived at the scene. The firefighters found unimaginable carnage; heaps of bodies and body parts.

What was the Stardust disaster?

  • A fire ripped through the Stardust nightclub in Dublin in the early hours of 14 February 1981.
  • 48 young people were killed, with 214 injured. The average age of the fatalities was 19.
  • It was Ireland’s worst ever fire disaster.
  • Witnesses spoke of fire exits being locked and chained, denied by management.
  • A tribunal found the “probable cause” was arson, angering families.
  • Nobody was ever charged in connection with the fire.
  • A review in 2009 found no evidence of arson.
  • After years of campaigning a new inquest was announced in 2019. It started in 2023.

Fireman James Tormey entered the club to find a “massive glow with intense heat”, and his ears started to burn as they weren’t covered by his equipment.

He found a man’s torso clad in a red jumper near one of the exit doors. He was “just two or three steps” from safety, the firefighter told the inquest.

‘They were trying to comfort each other before their demise’

Mr Tormey also discovered the bodies of two young people “arms around each other and the bodies were fused together as one”. He said he believed they were “trying to comfort each other before they met their demise”.

Another firefighter, Noel Keegan, saw six to eight bodies piled on top of each other in the toilets. Another was inside an exit, still on fire.

He remembered another body near the toilets appeared to have been trodden on.

“It was burnt beyond recognition and the intestines were showing,” he said.

A fleet of ambulances and taxis took the dead and dying to several Dublin hospitals, which were in danger of becoming overwhelmed by the casualties.

Marie Kennedy and George O’Connor were among the 48 who did not make it. It was soon clear that this was a tragedy unlike anything Ireland had seen.

Compensation payout for owners infuriated relatives

The demand for answers started immediately. Later in 1981, a tribunal found no definitive origin for the fire, but that the “probable cause” was arson. This infuriated survivors and relatives of the dead, who saw it as victim-blaming.

And so a long campaign began. The finding of arson not only protected the nightclub’s owners, the Butterly family, from any criminal charges or civil lawsuits, but also entitled them to compensation.

They were awarded IR£581,000 from a Dublin court in 1983.

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The Stardust families were enraged, but it took until 2009 for a new independent review to finally dismiss arson as a cause.

That was one victory, but fresh inquests remained elusive. After years of pressure and lobbying, a new inquest into the Stardust deaths was eventually ordered in September 2019, but agonisingly for the families, didn’t get under way until 2023.

At an anniversary event in 2022, Samantha Mangan, whose mother Helena was killed, told Sky News that the new inquest couldn’t come soon enough.

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She said: “It’s like a brick, it’s killing me. It feels like there’s a chain around my neck. I can’t move forward until I find out what happened to her and why she didn’t come home.”

Scar on the city

Now, after nearly a year of hearings and 373 witnesses, the bereaved families are at the end of the inquest process.

In the decades since the inferno claimed their loved ones, the word Stardust has become synonymous in Ireland with tragedy and injustice on a massive scale.

Much like “Hillsborough” on Merseyside, or “Grenfell” in more recent times, the mere mention of “Stardust” can evoke pain and anger in Dublin – the mass death of innocents, exacerbated by an exhausting battle for answers by those left behind, who perceive an ingrained socioeconomic bias against their cause.

Time will tell if that scar on the city’s story will now begin to fade.

Those who never came home – some of the Stardust victims:

Caroline McHugh was 17 when she lost her life in the Stardust disaster.
Caroline McHugh was 17 when she lost her life in the Stardust disaster.

Caroline McHugh (17): A lover of singing, swimming and Enid Blyton books, Caroline’s parents allowed her to skip a family wedding in Manchester to stay in Dublin and go to the dancing competition in the Stardust, a decision which has haunted them ever since.

Phyllis and Maurice McHugh were “advised not to see the remains because of severe burns and that she had no hair, was unrecognisable and unidentifiable.

“We were informed that Caroline had been bagged and tagged as number six.”

'Michael was always smiling and had an infectious laugh”, his mother recalled.
‘Michael was always smiling and had an infectious laugh’, his mother recalled.

Michael Barrett (17): “Michael was always smiling and had an infectious laugh”, recalled his mother Gertrude, who was “catapulted into unimaginable grief and sorrow.”

She spent four days at the morgue. “Michael would be the last identified victim of the Stardust… as a family we will never recover.”

Caroline Carey was described by her sister Maria as 'our beautiful, bubbly, witty Caroline'.
Caroline Carey was described by her sister Maria as ‘our beautiful, bubbly, witty Caroline’.

Caroline Carey (17): “Our beautiful, bubbly, witty Caroline is gone”, said her sister Maria. “While watching news reports on TV, we saw Caroline being carried out in the arms of a fireman.

“He placed her down and tried to resuscitate her, but it was too late. There wasn’t a mark on her. Even her nails were perfect.”

From Belfast, Jim Millar was encouraged to move to Dublin by his father to escape the devastation of The Troubles.
From Belfast, Jim Millar was encouraged to move to Dublin by his father to escape the devastation of The Troubles.

Jim Millar (21): From Belfast, Jim was encouraged to move to Dublin by his father to escape the devastation of The Troubles.

“Our dad blamed himself for Jim’s death”, said his sister Laura.

“Maybe seeing justice being done will help a little, but it’s been a long time coming. Too long. Maybe then, they all can rest in peace at last.”

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