Horror at Omagh arson massacre
Horror at Omagh arson massacre

A devastating house fire in which a nationalist family of seven died in the early hours of Tuesday morning was deliberately set, the PSNI police has confirmed. A sectarian motive has not been ruled out.

Neighbours in Omagh, County Tyrone watched in shock as the house went rapidly up in flames at around 5am on Tuesday morning.

Arthur McElhill, his partner Lorraine McGovern and their five children aged from 10 months to 13 years are believed to have died in the blaze that engulfed their end-of-terrace home at Lammy Crescent.

The family moved to Omagh in the past four years. The children who died were Caroline (13), who was a student in the secondary Sacred Heart School in Omagh; Sean (7) and Bellina (4), both pupils in St Conor’s Primary School, just yards from the family home; and Clodagh, (18 months), and James, (10 months).

A murder investigation has been launched after petrol was discovered at the scene of the blaze. Although there have been claims that the family may have been involved in a domestic or local dispute, there are local fears that sectarianism may have been behind the atrocity.

Witnesses said Mr McElhill and his wife were appealing for help from the windows of the upstairs rooms while screaming could be heard. The fire was too ferocious for anyone to reach them. By the time the fire brigade had arrived the screaming had stopped.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said he was shocked to learn police were treating the deaths as murder. “Obviously that makes a bad situation very much worse, the thought that this could have been done by someone is something that is too horrible even to contemplate but it appears now that this is being contemplated by the police.”

Despite some reports that the father is the main suspect, the PSNI has insisted that the deaths of all seven victims are currently being treated as murder.

A spokesman said that no one had been declared as a suspect at this stage and unusually warned media outlets to be “extremely careful” in reporting the case.

The PSNI opened the murder inquiry yesterday after confirming that a “significant quantity” of petrol that was poured and ignited caused the fatal fire.

They are trying to determine if the petrol was lit from inside the building.

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